‘Avoid Ghetto’ app: Racist or resourceful?

Thomas Warren, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Microsoft faces accusations of potential racism related to its patent for a new pedestrian-friendly map application.

The GPS system being developed by the software giant has no name, but it’s been nicknamed the “Avoid Ghetto” app by some because of how it calculates a specified route. The system accounts for crime statistics and demographic information when telling pedestrians where to go.

Microsoft does not say how crime statistics will be gathered, but some people believe the app directs a slight at poor neighborhoods.

Claudio Cabrera at TheRoot.com writes that the app is “absolutely ludicrous” and says Microsoft should be ashamed.

Sarah E. Chinn, author of “Technology and the Logic of American Racism,” tells AOL Autos the app is “pretty appalling.”

“Of course, an application like this defines crime pretty narrowly, since all crimes happen in all kinds of neighborhoods,” Chinn says. “I can’t imagine that there aren’t perpetrators of domestic violence, petty and insignificant drug possession, fraud, theft, and rape in every area.”

In its patent submission, Microsoft says pedestrians can face more potential harm when traveling than a driver protected by a car.

“It can be more dangerous for a pedestrian to enter an unsafe neighborhood then [sic] a person in a vehicle since a pedestrian is more exposed and it is more difficult for her to leave an unsafe neighborhood quickly,” the submission says.

The company says app users will get a route taking those factors into account.

The system is built to compile various criteria — which along with crime statistics, can include user history and weather information — and present routes based on rankings. The route options then appear on a user’s smartphone.

The user will have options to filter search results based on certain preferences, such as “keeping a user safe.” There’s also an option for a blind user to have search results read aloud or printed in Braille.

The application is five years in the making. Developers say it will work on Windows 7 smartphones.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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