Crowd-based reporting tools have garnered tremendous attention for their role in anticorruption efforts all around the world. Deservedly so: these platforms harness rapidly increasing internet and mobile access in the developed world to tackle the age-old problem of corruption. Perhaps the best known of this new wave of crowdsourced reporting tools, iPaidABribe (which started in India and has been successfully recreated in other parts of the world), allows any citizen with a smartphone or other access to the internet to report bribery incidents nearly-instantaneously. Citizens can report the amount of a bribe, the recipient of the bribe, the institution that took or demanded the bribe, and so on — all anonymously. Visitors can read the reports as well as view a sort of “heat map” that aggregates the reports to demonstrate where bribery is most prevalent. The very act of broadcasting one’s own experiences with corrupt officials, and the commensurate naming-and-shaming effect this has when many such reports are aggregated, is proving to be extremely powerful.
To be sure, not all attempts to use modern internet and mobile technology to crowdsource anticorruption reporting have been as successful. Some (perhaps most) platforms never really get off the ground. Observers on this blog and elsewhere have pointed out that this may be due to a mismatch between local social conditions and the platform itself. These challenges are real, but I want to focus for now on platforms that have managed to gather and report significant data on corruption. Even in these cases, some commentators have pointed out, the full potential of crowd-based corruption reporting platforms has yet to be realized. The data they are gathering is still relatively “raw” and unprocessed by entities that could really use it — such as government anticorruption agencies. Thus it is important to highlight how these platforms can improve, and how they can avoid having their efforts thwarted by unwanted side-effects. As platform developers move past their early obstacles and start achieving real success in their primary goal — getting people to use their reporting system — the need now is to direct the platforms and their potential partners in such a way as to enhance their effectiveness and to avoid the possibility that their data will be misused. Continue reading