• Jan 10th 2012 at 2:00PM
  • 488
A new Microsoft mobile app may defy the Windows Phone s... A new Microsoft mobile app may defy the Windows Phone slogan in its discrimination. (Flickr: bobfamiliar)
Microsoft's newly-patented "avoid ghetto" app for GPS devices aims to help motorists steer clear of unsafe neighborhoods, but the concept's controversial nature has garnered ire from critics.

The feature for mobile phones tracks crime stats and local weather to help drivers planning their route. The brouhaha stems from the idea of avoiding certain areas based on socio-economic or racial make-up.

Apps exist for almost every driver whim these days: it's no tall order to track down the nearest gas station, 7-Eleven, or electric vehicle plug-in charger at the click of a button. But when issues of race and politics enter the fray, the applications lead to complications.

The racist element

The technological cordoning off of some neighborhoods as dangerous, as with the Microsoft app, can open a Pandora's box.

As Sarah E. Chinn, author of Technology and the Logic of American Racism, observes, the stats indicated in the app might be skewed to discriminate against particular demographics.

"It's pretty appalling," Chinn said of the app. "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 points out that white-collar crime would not necessarily register on this app and as a result Microsoft "defines crime statistics as products of race and class identity."

On the other hand, consider how this app could potentially help wayward drivers in some cities. In Detroit, for example, the city has a central downtown from General Motors headquarters up Woodward Avenue to Ford Field and Comerica Park where comparatively little crime happens. But just a few blocks outside that area, and a driver can find himself amidst streets of abandoned buildings and street-gang territory.
Is this app racist?
Yes 5704 (12.3%)
No 40834 (87.7%)

Noting that the majority of violent crime occurs between people who know each other and that this "avoid ghetto" feature wouldn't necessarily increase a driver's safety, Chinn suggested an alternative app.

"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. "That phenomenon affects many more people than the rare occurrences of random violence against motorists driving through 'bad' neighborhoods."

A driver's right to safety

That said, drivers are entitled to take the best and safest route possible whether being alerted of accident-prone intersections or weather changes that could alter road conditions.

The issue of safety gets touchy, though, when the race issue exacerbates the controversy.

"All of this geo-fencing has an element of engendering an element of paranoia and creepiness," said Roger C. Lanctot, a senior analyst at Strategy Analytics focusing on telematics.

Still, Lanctot views the apps as potentially useful.

"We've all had that experience when you take the wrong exit and go, 'Oh shoot,' because you end up in a neighborhood you shouldn't be in," he said. "Should you look down at the GPS and have a red flag with an exclamation point, 'Get out!'?"

In principle, this app from Microsoft centers on driver and passenger safety through preventative alerts: in the same way that Megan's Law requires convicted sex offenders to have personal information such as their name and address made public, Lanctot says, drivers should have a right to know when they are passing so-dubbed high-risk areas.

"I hate to say it because of the racial implication element," Lanctot said, "but what father wouldn't want such a capability for their daughter. I've seen plenty of dads having their daughters call them every half-hour: 'Where are you?' 'Where are you?' They would have more piece of mind if they knew their daughters had an app to avoid driving through bad areas."

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment.


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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      Great idea. In New Orleans, in the tourist district, all the hotels have the ghettos red lined on maps and warns you to stay away. To the best of my knowledge it's based on crime statistics and not race.
      • 3 Years Ago
      i wonder if it steers people clear of the suburbs. thats where most of the pedophiles are. lets just see if it see's that as a threat also.
      • 3 Years Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      Now, everyone put their fingers in their ears, sing "la de dah de dah", and pretend there is no ghetto. And, above all, that there are no minorities there. If you are a resident of a ghetto, and are somehow offended by the fact that someone has noticed that your hood is not the Hamptons, and that no one ever wants to go where you live, maybe you should try doing something about it - besides whining "racism" at those who simply don't want to partake of your crime, squalor, danger and misery.
      • 3 Years Ago
      You notice the left wing media----run by minorities----doesn't mention the girl was white and the seven kids who beat her up were black. Or that the blacks would not let her sit down on the bus and called her racial slurs....oh that's right.... maybe because only white people can commit hate crimes-----according to the laws are left wing Dem's have written which say that only white people can commit hate crimes??? That means whites are either being victims of reverse discrimination again (as in affirmative action etc) or they're the only racists left on the planet??? Also what's with the bus driver, was he black too, because as soon as a fight starts the bus driver is to pull over and call the bus company to have the police come out, not drive all the way to school while the fight continues unchecked??? http://theconservativetreehouse.com/2011/06/30/eric-holders-mob-violence-view-only-white-people-can-commit-hate-crimes-especially-in-south-carolina/ http://www.loompanics.com/Articles/hatecrimes.html http://unamusementpark.com/2011/06/black-mobs-attack-white-people-tribune-editor-race-is-not-a-factor/ http://angrywhitedude.com/2009/07/can-blacks-commit-hate-crimes/
      • 3 Years Ago
      The app is not racist AT ALL. It is merely a way to help people avoid higher crime areas. Now if the app was only available to whites, Or if it said "predominately black neighborhood ahead", THAT would be racist. Geez people quit looking to stir the pot on racism.
      • 3 Years Ago
      WTF? The idea of identifying this as "racist" is itself racist. I admit I don't know whether the app is indeed called "avoid ghetto" nor the nuances behind the name, but it is a good idea to give drivers routes around areas with high violent crime, and it wouldn't make sense to include white collar crimes, because as a driver you're at risk of someone shooting you at an intersection, not someone running up to your car and selling your fake insurance.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I am usually socially pretty liberal and as such I seem to have an internal alarm for social righteousness (on overdrive) but I cannot fathom why someone feels the need to compare white-collar crime to gang violence and street theft in the context of the article. They are trying too hard to be politically correct. And really, they should not defend violence in poor neighborhoods by comparing it to crimes that people aren't as offended by. Let's just call this what it is- the system is broken which often leads to increased violence and crime in poor (often minority inhabited) areas, but that doesn't mean the crime isn't serious.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Getting directed through terrible neighborhoods at night particularly should prompt lawsuits by tourists who don't have any idea what sort of places a gps route would take them. Is it racist? Only liberal morons would care. The incessant playing of the race card is getting awfully tired. They should change the name to" the safe route", then all the fools with their knickers in a knot would have less nonsense to whine about.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Liberals created the violent welfare culture through their "Great Society" programs (kinda like Hope and Change). Now they are outraged that you would want to avoid becoming a victim of crime. They want us to be defenseless. It makes them feel better.
      • 3 Years Ago
      If avoiding a dangerous area is common sense. Anyone calling it racism is stupid.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I got this App and it told me to steer clear of Gwinnett Co. Ga. I am so glad I got this app. If you don't get this app just remember to stay away from Gwinnett Co, Ga. Goverment corruption, illeagal tacos just hang out at gas stations and Home Depot's. Picking what trash companys can opperate and getting a kickback from them. But the real kicker here is turning 85 into a toll road. Tax payers already paid for it. Gwinnett is not great.
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