RSS
Microsoft's 'avoid ghetto' app: 'Racist'?
A new technology designed to help pedestrians avoid bad neighborhoods has plenty of smartphone users up in arms
A Microsoft smartphone: The tech giant has patented an app that would help users plot routes that avoid bad weather and bad neighborhoods.
A Microsoft smartphone: The tech giant has patented an app that would help users plot routes that avoid bad weather and bad neighborhoods.
Caroline Seidel/dpa/Corbis
A

new Microsoft technology that may help users avoid "unsafe neighborhoods" is generating controversy and eliciting claims of "racist undertones." Here, a brief guide to what's been dubbed the "avoid ghetto" app:

What exactly is this app?
Last week, Microsoft was awarded a patent for a feature on GPS devices. The feature, which will reportedly be part of future Windows phones, takes into account weather and crime statistics when suggesting routes for pedestrians. According to the patent filing, the technology will help a user avoid passing through an "unsafe neighborhood or being in an open area that is subject to harsh temperatures."

It's not really called the "avoid ghetto" app, right?
No. That's simply what many commentators have dubbed it. And "the 'avoid ghetto' tag is a bit of a misnomer," says David Murphy at PC Mag. "Microsoft seems to want its users to be able to avoid any and all transit headaches."

And people are poking fun at it?
Some are. This app, says Supermercado at WorkItLA, is "perfect for all your racist friends." And "what if someone using a route from this system does get mugged, shot, assaulted, or robbed?" wonders Chris Matyszczyk at CNET. "Would they feel entitled to sue Microsoft because the route was supposed to be 'ghetto-free'?" Well, before we laugh this off too much, says Anna North at Jezebel, we should acknowledge that this app could actually help women avoid rape. If Microsoft includes "rape states in their route recommendations, they may be arming ladies with some extra information."

How else might this technology be used?
Buried within the patent is another use for this technology, one many are finding more troubling than the "avoid ghetto" feature. Advertisers could potentially use the technology to navigate users past a particular billboard or ad campaign on their route. "Yikes!" says Chenda Ngak at CBS News. "Not only might we take the long way home, we may also be forced to pass by billboards at Microsoft's will."

Sources: CBS News, CNET, Jezebel, PC Mag, WorkItLA

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week