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Is The Problem The “Avoid The Ghetto” App Or The Crime In The Ghetto?

Written By : John Hawkins
January 19, 2012

These complaints are all too typical of the backwards way we deal with too many facts that make people uncomfortable.

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An in-development Microsoft smart phone app designed to help drivers and pedestrians avoid unsafe neighborhoods is proving controversial among some minority rights groups that find the software potentially discriminatory.

The as-of-yet unnamed product is being referred to as the “Avoid The Ghetto” app by those who are concerned with where it will guide users.

“I’m going to be up in arms about it if it happens,” said Dallas NAACP President Juanita Wallace.

Wallace spent her afternoon at a rally on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and said she felt safe there, but fears the app may project otherwise.

“Can you imagine me not being able to go to MLK Blvd. because my GPS says that’s a dangerous crime area? I can’t even imagine that,” she said.

Microsoft says the app will use crime statistics to determine what parts of town are to be avoided. But it’s unclear where the data will come from and how it will be interpreted.

Microsoft has filed a patent for the app, but the actual product is unnamed and not available yet.

Opponents like Wallace fear it could hurt minority communities.

“It’s almost like gerrymandering,” she said. “It’s stereotyping for sure and without a doubt; I can’t emphasize enough, it’s discriminatory.”

So, is the problem here a useful cell phone application that allows people to avoid high crime areas or the actual high crime rate in those areas? What would actually make life better for people: complaining because a cell phone app alerts people to where high crime areas are or tackling the crime in those areas? Oh, but see, complaining about a cell phone app is easy, while actually doing something about crime is hard. Besides, as long as nothing is ever done about crime, then people like Juanita Wallace will always have a job, protecting black Americans from the “real” threat to their quality of life: “racist” cell phone apps.

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