If a government official forces you to engage in a bribe, who do you tell? It's not an easy question to answer, especially in regions where corruption is rampant. Corruption Tracker, a startup launched this past weekend at Singularity University's graduation, aims to shine a light on corruption attempts in the hopes that it will cause the guilty parties to change their nefarious ways. Sunlight is, of course, the best disinfectant.
The website, which maps reports of corruption around the world, has already gathered a handful of reports from users, but it's also cross-referencing existing databases from anti-corruption organization Global Integrity. While the site might now seems like a list of petty grievances, it will start being more effective as it grows in popularity. "We need at least 10,000 reports to make a truly global database," says Corruption Tracker team member Dr. Clarence Tan.
Corruption Tracker is already making a concerted effort to verify its corruption claims. The startup is taking a three-pronged approach: relying on regional expert volunteers, leveraging artificial intelligence techniques to map corruption attempts around the world (Corruption Tracker is still working on this), and using the power of crowdsourcing. If enough people are reporting corruption, they figure, it's probably happening.
Tan cites the example of Ushahidi to show how well crowdsourcing can work. During the recent Arab Spring uprisings, the crisis-mapping website waited until it received three text messages or two pictures from different sources before reporting an incident. Ushahidi later went out and checked on these reports and found that 91% were accurate. This bodes well for Corruption Tracker—once it reaches critical mass, verification will largely take care of itself.
So far, Corruption Tracker's reports mostly seem to be political in nature (one recent report from India: "Village Sharpanch Bhanushali of Shilatne Village is encroaching on
private Property and setting up village play ground with slides and
jungle gym and is demanding to buy property at discounted rate of...and threatening 'or else
encroachment will continue'".) But eventually, Corruption Tracker anticipates covering issues related to the private sector, utilities, education, health care, and more.
"In three to six months when we see what kind of critical mass we get, we'll decide our next steps," says Tan. [The site] is word of mouth, but that can be a very powerful tool."
[Images: Flickr user Amalthya, Corruption Tracker]