Is an app that steers people away from high crime areas by using crime statistics a good thing? One might think, yes, that would keep people safe. On the other hand, depending on which crime statistics the app uses, it could also generate routes that tend to avoid neighborhoods where people of color reside. In that case does the phone reinforce stereotypes or simply reflect reality? Moreover, as Mary Mitchell for The Chicago Sun Times writes is the use of the word “ghetto” in naming the app a reflection of bias.
First things first, it’s not officially the “Avoid Ghetto App”; that’s its media generated nickname. It is technology described in a patent application by Microsoft for “Pedestrian Route Production.” According to the application it addresses the reality that, “As a pedestrian travels, various difficulties can be encountered, such as traveling through an unsafe neighborhood.” So this app will account for various factors in producing for its user the ideal path from point A to point B. One factor it will consider, crime statistics. Hence the “avoid ghetto” nickname. It does not take into account socioeconomic statistics although the application says it could be of particular use in “economically challenged areas “populated with individuals that do not own motorized vehicles and generally travel by walking.”
I think that were one to know exactly the statistics Microsoft was using and how they were doing so, it could be trusted to be an innocent attempt to keep people from harm. However, since that information is not available and all kinds of data could be used or misused in creating a route reflecting all kinds of designer biases, I error on the side of suspicion.