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Anti-corruption App

Corruption is a huge problem in developing countries. No one wants to invest in a place where all the civil servants, contractors, and vendors are crooks.  And without economic investment, you can't solve most other problems. So I wonder if an app can fix all of that.

I'm assuming that even undeveloped regions have, or someday will have, enough smartphones and Internet access to make this plan work. You don't need full Internet penetration for this idea to work, so long as most people in the local business class have access to someone who has access to the Internet.

The idea is to develop an app for tracking and identifying corruption anywhere in society. It would be sort of like Yelp for corruption. If you get screwed by someone, you record it in your app, it registers on the Internet, and the rest of the world can see. In time, this would drive out the worst offenders and create transparency for the rest. And transparency might be almost as good as getting rid of a corrupt official. For example, if you can't get rid of an official who demands bribes for issuing building permits, it still helps to know how much the bribe will cost and if it will get the result you need. Whenever you remove uncertainty, business is better off.

There are many problems with my plan. At the top of the list is the risk that people will game the system the way small businesses try to game Yelp, by leaving fake reviews. People could use the anti-corruption app to settle scores and to defame competitors. But I think the system still comes out way ahead even if you allow for a healthy dollop of abuse. If there's only one civil servant handling a specific function in a town, and he has a thousand bad reviews but also 100 glowing reviews, people will realize the glowing reviews are fakes.

In time, an observer could get a good sense of which regions are sufficiently corruption-free for investment. That creates more incentive for the corrupt regions to police themselves. Once you have a clear correlation between corruption trends and investment, citizens will tolerate far less corruption in their midst.

Would it work?

[Update: The websites mentioned in the comments as being similar to this idea aren't organized in a way that can make a difference. They are mostly ramdom anecdotes about unnamed people. -- Scott]
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+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2011
If that could work, I think it would be one of the best global development tools we've ever seen. It would free thousands of ambitious, intelligent people who simply don't have the connections or power to use their gifts to do something productive. Corruption stymies more than outside investment. Why start a small business venture if some local bully is just going to shake you down for every dime you scrape out?

If small ventures are allowed to survive, the owners can do more to ensure their kids get a decent education and better opportunities. It would have a huge multiplier effect. Obviously larger outside investors could open up dramatic new opportunities in struggling communities as well.

I'd like to see a more hands on approach to start. We should round up all the unemployed, English and Sociology grads - and send them off to hundreds of locations around the world to do personal interviews with people - and then write up the stories. Outsiders have a much greater sense of outrage than people who accept corruption as a way of life.

The idea is to change attitudes. If you target a single town and expose the abuses - you generate energy around specific human stories - and then (hopefully) show progress when things improve. That would take a longish-term commitment - to continue to go back and talk to people about what is and is not working for them. It would work best in places in which the national government is somewhat motivated to help stamp out local corruption. You'd have to pick towns that aren't run by well-connected thugs to start.

If you can do this in enough places - say 60 or 70 in India, for example - people will start waking up to the impact corruption has in their lives and there will be more energy around dealing with it.

Corruption is one of those issues that lurks like an undiscovered cancer in many places. No one really appreciates the value of the business that was not started or the children who were not properly fed or educated - because they never have a sense of loss. It may not kill the places it infects, but it keeps them weak and needy.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2011
Corruption's fine but if we can include a sub-catagory for the grossly incompetent that'd be swell, too.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2011
It is already there in India, not an app but an website http://ipaidabribe.com/
Because of low smartphone density app wont work here right now, but when the smartphone number go up it would be convenient to log it then and there rather than going back home and logging it.
Aug 23, 2011
Wow. The second comment shows why it wouldn't work... A person without any direct interaction or knowledge reports someone for corruption.

Not that my impressions and opinions are any different from hers, but passing off opinions and impressions as hard data is a form of corruption, too, imo.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2011
What makes you think that "No one wants to invest in a place where all the civil servants, contractors, and vendors are crooks"? Doing what's right doesn't necessarily correlate with a good return on investment. ESPECIALLY if you're crooked and don't have to live in the region you're helping to ruin. I almost hate myself for pointing that out, but I think it's an ugly truth.
Aug 23, 2011
This past week I read a story about a prison guard in China who reported corruption. After prisoners finished their state ordered labor doing things like road work, the prison officials would have them playing online games. Sounds fun, but they'd be assigned to do tedious tasks that earned gaming points that the officials could then sell to gamers in the US, netting them significant cash that they pocketed. Sometimes prisoners were only allowed 4-5 hours of sleep each night.

The guard was prosecuted for reporting the corruption and was sent to prison himself. I assume he's now a whiz at gaming.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2011
It seems like you'd want to be anonymous when filling out these reports (esp if you're in a place ruled by "warlords" - otherwise you're probably going to end up with late night visitors of the unfriendly kind), but for it to have a hope of success, you'd want it to be yelp like in that each user could only post one review and would have to have a unique login.

I imagine someone smarter than me can figure out how to combine the two, but I don't know how, and without resolving that, it doesn't seem like you'd have much luck.
Aug 23, 2011
It's an interesting idea, but I am not sure about its efficacy. Lots of pretty corrupt places (for example, China) still receive plenty of investment. As long as the corruption doesn't exceed a certain level, then it's just part of the cost of doing business. (The Chinese equivalent of CA's Environmental Impact Reviews, perhaps?)
Aug 23, 2011
You may want to check this out:

This is in India and got reasonable press coverage!
Aug 23, 2011
Developing countries like Illinois?
Aug 23, 2011
Trying to push the responsibility of the free press down to the unwashed masses only works with the accountability of no anonymity... which, like card check for union votes, means it won't work when the Bad Guysâ„¢ can readily find out who is a contrarian.
Aug 23, 2011
I imagine all the corrupt public servants creating anonymous accounts so they can make spurious charges against the good servants and each other.
Aug 23, 2011
iirc, this is very similar to rings of trust in network security (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_of_trust). where you can have graphs of relationships (like fb) and people you truly trust are tagged as such. you find reputable folks by following the edges of trust.

oh, almost forgot... Scott your such an a$$h0l5! i cant believe you hate 3rd world countries!
Aug 23, 2011
Like the site in India that has been doing that for a while?

Aug 23, 2011
My wife has a similar but more low tech scheme for identifying bad drivers. She thinks that cars ought to have paint ball guns and once your car has been hit by 'x' number of paint balls your license is suspended until you take a 'how not to drive like a moron' class.
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