A new app promising to gauge the “relative sketchiness of an area” was released on iTunes today amid some controversy and online backlash.
Created by a young Manhattan-based duo, SketchFactor combines public data with crowd-sourced observations to give users a heads-up about the more dubious parts of a neighborhood.
"Google Maps does a good job of telling us where streets intersect but it gives us no information about what the experience of the street is," Allison McGuire, 27, who co-founded the app with Daniel Herrington, 26, told the New York Daily News.
"The whole premise of this app is we let everyone define sketchy on their own," added Herrington.
Initially working in Washington, D.C., in two separate fields, McGuire and Herrington ultimately left their jobs and set up shop in New York City with funding from friends and family.
While the app was named a finalist in the NYC BigApps competition, it has also sparked a wave of allegations that their product could result in racial profiling. The website GhettoTracker.com, which invited users to review both the safe and “ghetto” parts of an area, also instigated similar accusations in 2013.
"I don't know how this got so far into the development process without you realizing that, regardless of your intention, this app will be used in a racist way, and there's nothing you can do to avoid that,” wrote one commenter on the SketchFactor Facebook page.
“Quick somebody make an app to avoid white people,” wrote another commenter.
Sam Biddle, a reporter at ValleyWag, described SketchFactor as "a racist app made for avoiding 'sketchy' neighborhoods, which is the term young white people use to describe places where they don't feel safe because they watched all five seasons of The Wire."
The creators responded to the allegations on the SketchFactor website, where they insisted that the app is a tool “for anyone, anywhere, at anytime.” They also noted the built-in reporting mechanism for racial profiling.
"We understand that people will see this issue," McGuire told Crain’s New York Business. "And even though Dan and I are admittedly both young, white people, the app is not built for us as young, white people. As far as we’re concerned, racial profiling is 'sketchy' and we are trying to empower users to report incidents of racism against them and define their own experience of the streets."
Dante Barry, the deputy director at nonprofit Million Hoodies Movement for Justice and an adviser to McGuire and Herrington, seconded McGuire’s sentiments.
"I think it’s a really great way to document experiences that are commonly held by communities that are marginalized," he told the New York Daily News.
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