Bribespot, mapping a world of corruption
You share the story, we draw the map. Such is the pledge of Bribespot, a new website and smartphone app that permits users to anonymously submit information regarding bribes made in their region
Created and launched in just one weekend through the group efforts of an international team from Garage48, the website seeks to turn the Foursquare model on its head by utilizing crowdsurfing and geolocation techniques to combat corruption.
The site's founders hope that the app will harness the power in numbers to identify bribery hotspots, send a message to corrupt officials and serve as a reliable research tool for the media, social organisations and the public.
The site's interface consists of a world map, which permits computer and smartphone users to select their location and enter information concerning bribes taken and received (i.e. bribe amount, category – private, governmental, medical, etc. – and a short description). Users can also follow bribes as they are posted in real time through the site's streaming feature.
In the month since the site was launched, more than 400 entries from five continents have been posted, greater than half of which originated in Eastern Europe. Entries vary in their nature and magnitude and include reports of bribes for $ 35 to cut the line in a Lower East Side Manhattan night club to € 5,000 to obtain employment in France and € 20,000 for restitution of property in Lithuania.
Bribespot is yet another variation on a wave of apps intended to use emerging technology to combat crime. Perhaps the most known of these are apps, like CrimeReports, which permit users to obtain information about criminal reports in their neighborhood through the use of an interactive map. Yet other apps, such as the PatriotApp (permitting users to report suspicious activities directly from their smartphone to government agencies) and BeenVerified (providing background searches and sex offender info), have been simultaneously lauded for providing information to the public and criticised as a powerful tool for invasion of privacy.
In the short month since Bribespot first made itself available, it has already received attention from online media, and was even featured in a New York Times blog post. But such attention has illicited some common reactions and criticisms from the online community.
Whereas Foursquare has come under repeated criticism for enabling cyberstalking and thus its criminogenic potential, sites like Bribespot must find ways to cope with their own shortcomings, such as the possibility for abuse by its users. In recognition of this, Bribespot's developers have created limits on the number of posts that can be created by the same user in a given timeframe, and also provide a flagging and feedback mechanism to serve as a check on inaccurate posts. They hope that these features will prevent the site from being abused by those who seek to discredit it.
But perhaps more difficult to address are criticisms that the site raises difficult line drawing problems, might itself be used as a vehicle for abuse and might not be able to tempt official actions to curb corrupt behaviour - where the bribery is on a smaller scale. The author of the New York Times post ended by asking who is the worse for the occasional small-scale bribe, such as slipping the trashman a few bills to overlook curbside disposal of an old couch.
This might seem a valid criticism in the United States, where a meager three reports have been posted thus far, and bribery is not seen as endemic or governmentally sanctioned problem, as it is in many developing nations. The more difficult questions to answer for these countries will be whether the site can effectively protect the anonymity of its users in regions where bribery is big business and whether the site will deter rather than encourage bribes.
Interestingly, as TNW first reported, another New York Times publication serves as a good example of bribery's pervasive presence in countries such as Romania, where they are often necessary to obtain access to even basic health services such as proper prenatal care.
Despite taking care to bribe everyone from the delivering gynecologist to the orderly to assure proper care, the Romanian parents were left wondering if they had not paid enough after their gynecologist failed to appear during delivery and their baby was left blind, deaf and brain damaged due to complications. Such accounts underscore the need for greater reporting on bribery in areas like Eastern Europe, where Bribespot may serve to highlight disparity between its prevalence in these versus other parts of the world.
And hopefully can serve as an impetus for change.