Quick Takes: The “Avoid the Ghetto” App

GPS Could Save Unaware Travelers

Microsoft’s “Pedestrian Route Production” patent presents the next step in navigation system technology, creating routes that keep people out of danger whether they are driving or walking. The new feature sends alerts to users when they are headed into neighborhoods with crime statistics that reach below a predetermined safety threshold. The app is a smart addition to the market, as it would keep unwitting tourists — as well as people who are merely venturing outside of their local topography — at ease while out on the town.

Although derisively dubbed the “Avoid the Ghetto app,” its purpose is far more complex. The feature collects and analyzes data from crime statistics, weather reports and maps to create routes away from unsafe neighborhoods, bad weather and difficult terrain. The app furthermore takes rape statistics into account, making the feature especially useful for women who are traveling alone. This would also quell parents’ worries when their newly-licensed teenage drivers are out maneuvering the streets on their own. 

The app is designed to also help unsuspecting tourists avoid questionable neighborhoods, a feature that would have saved the lives of British tourists James Cooper and James Kouzaris. In April 2011, the two vacationers were shot and killed while walking back to their hotel in Sarasota, Florida. Being unfamiliar with the streets, they strayed into the city’s Newton district — which is infamous for its high rate of violent gang activity, drug-dealing and rape. With this new GPS app, instances like this can be avoided.

The pedestrian-friendly app guides users away from high-crime areas, just as do other apps for highway construction or traffic jams. With this feature, accidentally wandering into the “sketch” areas of town can become a fear of the past.

-Hilary Lee
Associate Opinion Editor


Microsoft Reserves Right to Sell App


new app by Microsoft helps drivers bypass high crime rate areas. Some people are worried the app will use racial stereotypes to identify unsafe towns, and have nicknamed the app “Avoid the Ghetto App.” Sarah Chinn, author of Technology and the Logic of American Racism, even goes so far as to claim that this application uses statistics in a way that defines danger in terms of race and class identity. However, Microsoft reserves the right to put a product on the marketplace for the use of others, no matter what flaws it may have.

According to the United States Supreme Court, Microsoft has the right to sell controversial products, despite public outcry. In 2011, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that would have banned selling “violent” video games to children. Justice Antonin Scalia explained that the law overstepped the First Amendment rights of people who think violent video games are a harmless pastime.

 Consistency demands that Microsoft’s app also be protected under the First Amendment, since some people may view “ghetto” cites as dangerous.  People that dislike the app don’t have to use it. Microsoft may not have the perfect strategy for driver safety, but imperfection is not grounds to remove a product from the marketplace. Ultimately, the consumers who purchase the applications need to use their own discernment in purchasing products. The general public is at liberty to view the Microsoft app as a racist social commentary or simply as a helpful device.

-Chris Roteliuk
Contributing Writer


New App is too Broad and Inaccurate


There are many things wrong with Microsoft’s newly-patented GPS add-on. One of its biggest problems stems from its unofficial name — the “Avoid the Ghetto App.” The add-on is harmful because it reinforces assumptions about crime and race that are not true — something that is a product of the way crime statistics are calculated.

Several third-party studies conducted in the 1990s and the 2000s found that both of the major crime statistics gathering programs, Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), were susceptible to significant racial biases. The kinds of crime that are committed in mostly-white, middle-class neighborhoods are vastly different from the kinds committed in poor minority neighborhoods. Both the NCVS and the UCR focus solely on urban and street crimes. This focus causes them to over-represent crime rates in poor urban neighborhoods — which, incidentally, is where African-Americans tend to live.

Reliance upon crime statistics that have known racial biases will only strengthen long-standing assumptions about the interrelationship of race and crime. Though the idea that one’s racial makeup can somehow predict one’s propensity for crime has been roundly dismissed by the scientific community, it is difficult to remove from popular discourse. 

The Ghetto App is a step backward in race relations in that it supports the idea that certain neighborhoods are to be avoided entirely because they are fundamentally unsafe. It oversimplifies the reality of crime distribution by glossing over the long history that has created today’s demographic conditions, as well as the fact that these conditions continue to change.

-Ayan Kusari
Staff Writer




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