It May Help You Drive, But Is It Racist? - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

It May Help You Drive, But Is It Racist?

AOL.COM - 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. click here to read more

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