Is Microsoft’s “Avoid Ghetto” Smartphone App Insulting?

Some resent the newly patented GPS feature, which incorporates crime statistics into route planning. 

Posted: 01/12/2012 11:57 AM EST
Is Microsoft's "Avoid Ghetto" Smartphone App insulting?

Want to steer clear of the ghetto? There’s an app for that.

 

Microsoft has patented a so-called “avoid ghetto” app for GPS devices, aimed to keep drivers away from unsafe neighborhoods. Needless to say, the new technology has many smartphone users up in arms.

 

The feature, which will reportedly be a part of future Windows phones, tracks crime statistics and local weather to help drivers plan their route. According to Microsoft's claims, the Windows 7 smartphone would gather "information related to pedestrian travel, include maps (e.g., extracted from a database), user history, weather information, crime statistics [and] demographic information."  

 

Although a technology that may keep drivers out of “dangerous” areas may seem like a godsend, others think the app may be skewed to discriminate against particular demographics.

 

"It's pretty appalling," Sarah E. Chinn, author of Technology and the Logic of American Racism, told AOL. "Of course, an application like this defines crime pretty narrowly, since all crimes happen in all kinds of neighborhoods. I can't imagine that there aren't perpetrators of domestic violence, petty and insignificant drug possession, fraud, theft, and rape in every area."

 

She also points out that because white-collar crime wouldn’t necessarily register on the app, crime statistics would be products of race and class identity. And, because the majority of violent crime occurs between people who know each other, the “avoid ghetto” app wouldn’t necessarily increase a driver’s safety.

 

"A more useful app would be for young Black men to be able to map blocks with the highest risks of their being pulled over or stopped on the street by police," Chinn said.

 

An exact release date for the app has not been revealed, and Microsoft has declined to comment on the criticism.  

 

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