These days it seems like there's an app for everything. But one app has stirred mixed emotions in its attempt to help make pedestrians' lives a little bit easier.
Microsoft is being slammed for its new feature that some have dubbed the "avoid ghetto" app, although it still does not have an official name. The app is meant to help anyone traveling on foot avoid bad weather, tough terrain and unsafe neighborhoods, NPR reports. It uses a combination of information from maps, weather reports, crime statistics and demographics to give users a comprehensive route recommendation. But while some say it is an innocent GPS system that features important information, others criticize it for reinforcing negative assumptions about certain neighborhoods and the people that live there.
According to the company's "Pedestrian Route Production" patent the app is simply a device pedestrians can use to determine the most effective route to their final destination.
"As a pedestrian travels, various difficulties can be encountered, such as traveling through an unsafe neighborhood or being in an open area that is subject to harsh temperatures," Microsoft states in its patent. "A route can be developed for a person taking into account factors that specifically affect a pedestrian. Moreover, the route can alter as a situation of a user changes; for instance, if a user wants to add a stop along a route."
But as Sarah Chinn, author of "Technology and the Logic of American Racism," told NPR, despite appealing to an understandable desire to feel safe, the app could reinforce stereotypical views of certain races and socio-economic classes.
"In much of dominant American culture," she told the news outlet. "There's an assumption that criminality and being poor and not white go hand in hand."
Others said the app isn't targeting anyone in particular because of its use of crime statistics.
"I don't think anybody from any particular race is being singled out because they are using crime data to come up with these figures," said Loop21.com editor Maurice Garland, who also wrote a humorous piece on the subject for the website. "If you don't want to end up in those places, I don't see anything wrong with somebody trying to help you out."
According to the 2010 FBI crime report, whites were arrested more often for violent crimes that year than any other race, NPR reports. But Dallas NAACP president, Juanita Wallace, told CBS Dallas that the app is discriminatory because most people assume African Americans commit more crimes.
"It's almost like gerrymandering," she said. "It's stereotyping for sure and without a doubt; I can't emphasize enough, it's discriminatory."
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