About Microsoft’s “Avoid Ghetto” GPS Service

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Oh, how the Internet, and society in general, do love a scandal. Especially if it involves one of the big Internet or tech companies, like Google (witness this week’s scandal over Google’s “new” privacy policy) or Microsoft. This week everybody is mad at Microsoft for being, allegedly, racist, by updating their GPS software offerings to include a purported “avoid ghettos” feature. Some are even calling it “the avoid ghetto app”.

Here’s the real deal: Microsoft has applied for a patent for a GPS feature known as “Pedestrian Route Production”, produced by compiling and integrating crime statistics data that is freely available from such sources as the FBI’s crime statistics. You know, things like where are the high crime areas. Microsoft is planning on bundling this information into some of their GPS offerings because, they say, people want to avoid high crime areas. Who wouldn’t?

Says Microsoft, in the patent, “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. 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.”

And that is pretty much all that Microsoft – who has never called it the ‘avoid ghetto’ service – is saying.

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About Microsoft’s “Avoid Ghetto” GPS Service

But plenty of others are saying plenty of other things. First, CBS News Seattle dubbed the feature “avoid ghetto”. Oh, we’re sure they thought they were being clever and witty. But the name stuck, and lots of people have piled on. For example, Sarah Chinn, author of Technology and the Logic of American Racism (so yeah, she doesn’t have an agenda) pronounced the feature “pretty appalling.”


“Of course, an application like this defines crime pretty narrowly, since all crimes happen in all kinds of neighborhoods. I can’t imagine that there aren’t perpetrators of domestic violence, petty and insignificant drug possession, fraud, theft and rape in every area. A more useful app would be for young Black men to be able to map blocks with the highest risk of being pulled over or stopped on the street by police. That phenomenon affects many more people than the rare occurrences of random violence against motorists driving through ‘bad’ neighborhoods,” said Chinn, conveniently avoiding the fact that this is a feature for pedestrians, not motorists.

Even the NAACP has gotten on the bandwagon. The president of the Dallas NAACP has said that she “will be up in arms” if the app is made available.

“It’s almost like gerrymandering. It’s stereotyping for sure and without a doubt. I can’t emphasize enough: It’s discriminatory,” asserted Dallas NAACP President Juanita Wallace.

Of course, all of this ignores that the data is not even compiled by Microsoft. They are just offering it to their customers.

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The Pedestrian Route Production feature isn’t even available yet; in fact, it doesn’t even have a commercial name yet. But we’re pretty sure that they won’t be calling it “Avoid Ghetto”. Microsoft has been accused of a lot of things, but racism is by far one of the most ridiculous accusations leveled against them to date.

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About Microsoft’s “Avoid Ghetto” GPS Service

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1 Reply to “About Microsoft’s “Avoid Ghetto” GPS Service”

  1. looking at it logically, Juanita is being racist against minority people, even her own, just by commenting like that. In my town ,our “ghetto” has almost no minority members in it, its 90%+ white. So why is juanita automatically equating “ghetto” with minority members. See what I’m saying? pretty racist huh? I guess that in this naacp womans mind terms such as “high crime” and “ghetto” just instantly refers to black people.

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