Unintended Consequences of Google Play’s Gun Geo Marker App

By Eric Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International  – April 2013

Takeaways: Examples of unintended consequences of a recently released app about guns on the Play store. Why a third party facilitator can really help in uncovering unintended consequences before they occur.

What do you think of this? The Google Play app store has a new app called Gun Geo Marker (apparently I’m not the only one concerned.) Their promotion for this app encourages users to “geolocate dangerous guns and owners” in their communities. I’m sure that more than one national organization will eventually weigh in on why this is a good thing and others on why it is a bad thing. Now let’s skip over the highly charged political issue of gun ownership, the 2nd Amendment, and let’s instead focus on the implications and the unintended consequences that app could create.

What would you be thinking if you were the creator of this app as you worked on developing it? Would you just concentrate on the technical issues and put together some happy numbers about how many you would sell? Perhaps not if you took the time to consider all the potential unintended consequences that might occur for you, for those selling the app, for those using the app, and for those whose lives are affected by the app.

Some Examples of unintended consequences

  • Your app got picked up the Google Play app store, real and true, and is being promoted to cause the users to “blow the whistle on where gun owners live”.
  • Your uncle Bob in Montana is a hunter who owns a number of weapons, a fairly common thing among hunters. Your cousin Julie in Chicago owns some guns because she likes them and is a Special Agent with the FBI. In a period of two weeks you learn both of their homes were burglarized, all their weapons stolen while they were away and nothing else was stolen. After the normal investigation it was learned that both homes were tagged by the Gun Geo Marker.Your brother, Bill, living across town from you is harassed by the press for two days and his son, Billy is teased at school because the press says his father is a criminal that owns non-registered guns when in reality the only gun in the house is Billy’s BB gun.
  • One day your wife says “Honey, we have to move out of this neighborhood. I don’t care if we lose money selling the house, it’s an unsafe neighborhood. I know we’ve lived here with the same neighbors for 13 years but have you seen how many of our neighbors own guns?  You actually go through with the plan and it leaks out that you are selling your home because of the gun owning neighbors, the sellers stay away from the neighborhood for the same reason, and you just keep dropping the price without results.

Who are those affected going to take to task for these problems? Uncle Bob and Cousin Julie might be able to successfully sue the developer of the app AND the Google Play store for promoting a tool that put private information in the hands of criminals. I am quite certain that the Google Play store people do not want to have to defend themselves in such a suit. Your brother Bill might also have grounds to file a suit against the same parties.

Now consider the situation where someone who purchases the app goes about geo-locating all the people he or she knows that own guns, and word gets out to some of them that they have done that. They may not have had any bad motives for doing this but all of a sudden they find themself the defendant in a number of suits saying their rights have been violated under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. They may have not been hurt in any way from the actions of the user of the app but they perceive they are exposed illegally by having their addresses posted via the app.

What about other applications?

Now, what if there were a geolocating app for jewelry, collectibles, high-end electronics, clothing with real fur, art work, etc. That app on the Google Play app store we are talking about could easily be modified and used for so many other geolocating purposes.

We can guess the sort of thinking that took place to create the app was: “Wow, how cool would it be to have an app which lets Joe/Jane Doe on the street easily key in a location to show where he/she knows or thinks someone owns a gun, and let the whole world see it on a map! We could sell a lot of these apps!”

How could any of this be predicted prior to actually developing and releasing the app? This implies money spent, time wasted and possibly creating commitments that must be broken. One answer is by hiring someone who is skilled in facilitating a process that asks incisive questions about each of the types of people and businesses that will come in contact with the app. The idea is to imagine how each seller, buyer, user, middle man and all people that are on the receiving end of the app are affected by its use. The key skill these facilitators have is to keep asking questions that dive deep into issues, peeling back the layers that tend to cloud or hamstring our thinking and keep the conversation focused on producing valuable information of various scenarios.

Perhaps if the developers of this app and the folks at the Google Play store had done this they may have uncovered a similar type of circumstance that occurred in Vermont not too long ago – a database of gun owners was built to satisfy some anti-gun folks which resulted in serious clashes between the anti-gun folks and the gun owners. Good intentions sometimes do lead to the road to trouble.

Have you ever launched a business initiative or something personal perhaps that created so many unintended consequences that you realize even starting it was either a bad idea or you could have managed it better? Consider putting in the extra

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