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Technology Update: A Crowdsourcing Guide to Latin America

January 12, 2012

Across Latin America, crowdsourcing, or using a large group of people for a task normally performed by a single person, has become a popular method for citizen participation in law enforcement, public health, consumer rights, and social issues. In particular, a number of websites appeared across the region allowing users to report crimes anonymously through crowdsourcing, due in part to violence against witnesses and journalists. At times crowdsourcing sites pass information on to the appropriate authorities, be it the police, investigative journalists, or government officials, helping connect citizens to government and media. These sites also impact lives: in Panama, a whistleblower got her job back after a journalist published a story based on a crowdsourced report, and in Brazil, citizens helped police find a suspect in a murder case.

These new tools have grown along with Internet and social media use. Latin America is one of the fastest growing regions for Internet penetration, as the number of Internet users grew to 112 million in January 2011—a 15 percent increase from the previous year. In Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, Internet usage growth rates rose by 20 percent or more during the same period.  Also on the rise is smartphone usage: in 2011, one in five cell phones sold in Latin America was a smartphone and, in 2010, smartphone sales in the region increased by 117 percent. With greater Internet access, more Latin Americans are using social networks: 114.5 million people used sites like Facebook and Twitter in June 2011.

Below, AS/COA Online takes a look at examples of crowdsourcing sites throughout Latin America. Have a Latin American crowdsourcing site you’d like to share? Send us a message at: ascoa.online@as-coa.org.

Argentina

  • Mapa del Narcotráfico (Narcotrafficking Map): In 2009, the Argentina Anti-Drug Association created an interactive Google map and blog, where users post reports of drug traffickers, locations of drug sales and smuggling routes, and drug-related arrests throughout the country. The goal is for law enforcement and government authorities to follow users’ tips.
  • Mapa de la Inseguridad (Insecurity Map): Victims and witnesses of crimes in both Buenos Aires province and city can denounce robberies, drug sales, kidnappings, and other crimes, as well as visualize crimes on a map. The site also offers advice on how to report crimes to the authorities.

Brazil

  • Disque Denúncia (Dial To Report a Crime): Created as a community-based organization in Rio de Janeiro in 1995 to allow citizens to anonymously report crimes by phone, Disque Denúncia is now a website that uses email and Twitter to allow users to report crimes. Reports are sent to both police and the press for investigation. Through their Twitter account and blog, administrators help divulge important information about security issues, as well as alerts and citizen reports about crimes. Locations of crimes are also added to a map of the city. The site received 251,654 reports from 2010 to November 2011, and a total of 1,645,225 reports since it began. The organization has helped police in a number of high-profile cases, including finding the suspects of the murder of six year-old João Hélio Fernandes in 2005 and aiding police with tips after citywide attacks in November 2010.
  • Wikicrimes: Created by Vasco Furtado, a computation professor in Fortaleza, this site allows users to report crimes anywhere in the world. User-reported crimes are added to a map, which shows individual reports as well as density of crimes. Crimes are rated by credibility and users are able to comment. The site is available as a mobile app and in five languages.
  • Rio Sem Dengue (Rio without Dengue): In order to contain the spread of dengue, a mosquito-borne disease, in Rio de Janeiro, users can report cases of the illness and possible mosquito focal points. Users can also see reports on a map, and add photos of locations to their reports. Since the site’s creation, 557 reports have been submitted, and 96 percent of reports have been verified.

Chile

  • Mapa del Crimen (Crime Map): Aggregating user and media reports, this site shows crimes on a Santiago map. Users can report crimes, and see where there are high levels of crimes in the city.
  • Reclamos (Complaints): This consumer protection site allows users to give opinions and report problems with products and services. It also allows businesses to request user recommendations. Citizens can issue complaints about a range of companies, from telecommunications to construction. There’s also a section where users can report problems with government services and officials. Started four years ago, the site receives an average of 40,000 users per day and 10,000 reports per month.
  • Poderopedia (Powerpedia): Though not launched yet, this site will contain a database and map that uses crowdsourced tips as well as journalistic research to expose links among Chile’s elite, including across companies and institutions. Crowdsourced reports will be investigated by journalists before being included in the database. The project won a Knight Foundation media innovation grant in 2011.

Costa Rica

  • LocalCrime.org: Users can denounce crimes and see where they occur on a map. Visitors can also submit news from the press, photos, and videos related to crime, which then appear on the map. In addition, users can see where police stations and local authorities are located.
  • Quien Paga Manda (The One Who Pays Gets a Say): This site allows consumers to send complaints about products and businesses, and journalists write about the complaints in a blog. The site also has information about consumer protection, credit ratings, preventing unsolicited calls, and public services. In some cases, consumer complaints on the site lead to action from companies. For example, in 2009 a consumer complained about discrimination against lesbians at a Pizza Hut restaurant, leading to an apology from the company and a change in the company’s customer service guidelines. The site was created by Costa Rican journalist Hazel Feigenblatt, currently the editorial director at Global Integrity in Washington, DC.

Honduras

  • Honduras Health Mapping: Created by public health professionals working in Honduras, this map shows the location of hospitals and clinics, as well as health risks, including outbreaks of disease, natural disasters, and violence. It allows users to submit reports, news, photos, and videos about public health information.

Mexico

  • Mapa Delictivo (Crime Map): Mexican daily El Universal created a crime map of Mexico City. Users can submit crimes and check crime patterns on the map. The site also offers assistance to victims and includes a link to the newspaper’s citizen reporter site.
  • Yo Propongo (I Propose): Using social media outreach, this website encourages young people to propose ideas to help solve social problems in Mexico City. Through the site’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Youtube accounts, administrators ask which problems need to be solved, and then ask users to propose practical solutions. For example, the group asked for solutions to drunk driving, and users proposed stronger penalties for drunk drivers, such as forced community service and subsidized taxi rides, since young people either don’t trust taxis or can’t afford them. The group later proposed these suggestions to local policymakers. 
  • Curul501: This site allows Mexicans to read bills under consideration in the country’s Congress, and to participate in a virtual vote for each bill. The site partners with political think tank Fundar and Citivox, a platform that uses crowdsourcing technology to strengthen ties between citizens and government.

Panama

  • Mi Panamá Transparente (My Transparent Panama): Created by Knight International Journalism Fellow Jorge Luis Sierra, this website allows users to report crimes by email or text message, and see crimes on a map of the country. Sierra trained local journalists on how to use the crime map, and works with reporters who choose which crimes to investigate. Journalists have written about a number of crimes reported on the site, such as a group of thieves harassing commuters on an overpass and a whistleblower who was fired for speaking out against corrupt border officials. The project will soon be expanded from newspaper reporting to TV reporting as well, and will also be implemented in Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Peru

  • Que No Te Roben (Don’t Let Them Rob You): Created by police association Police Dignity, this crowdsourcing project seeks to link police to robbery victims in Lima. Users can report robberies, attempted robberies, and give warnings on the site, as well as visualize crimes on a map. The site has associated Facebook and Twitter accounts that share information about robberies, as well as a Youtube account called RoboTube with original and recommended robbery-related content.

Venezuela

  • Quiero Paz (I Want Peace): A non-profit, this organization runs a website that allows users to report crimes throughout Venezuela. These are then added to a map and a news registry. An associated Twitter account shares news about crime across the country.
  • Victeams: On this site, users can anonymously report crimes in Venezuela and see them on a map, dating back to 2006.