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In Rio, Mapping Gunshots Can Backfire

Smartphone apps that collect gun violence data in Brazil help users navigate dangerous areas — but one expert warns they may magnify stigma against favela residents. 

Fogo Cruzado founder Cecilia Oliveira shows the Fogo Cruzado App in her laptop in Rio de Janeiro in 2018.

Fogo Cruzado founder Cecilia Oliveira shows the Fogo Cruzado App in her laptop in Rio de Janeiro in 2018.

Photographer: Mauro Pimentel / AFP via Getty Images

Dueling gunshots ring across Rio de Janeiro daily, as armed battles involving drug traffickers as well as police claim thousands of lives in the Brazilian city every year. In one week in September alone, at least 33 people were shot in 69 shootings. Thirteen of them were killed. 

Those hard numbers don’t come from government sources or police dispatches. They come from Fogo Cruzado (“Crossfire”), a mobile app and online platform that gathers and cross-checks gunfire reports from journalists, police officers and residents around the city. Created by journalist and researcher Cecilia Oliveira in 2016 with the support of Amnesty International and a team of volunteers, the app aims to improve on a dearth of reliable data and alert civilians to dangerous events. Another app introduced in 2017, Onde Tem Tiroteio (“Where There's a Shooting”), is similar — it maps reports of shootings, floods, demonstrations, robberies and fake police checkpoints sent in from users.