Over a week ago, Microsoft was awarded a patent for a new feature to appear on new Windows phones with GPS devices that would take into account the weather and crime statistics of neighborhoods when giving directions. The patent filing states that the technology would help users avoid “unsafe neighborhoods or being in an open area that is subject to harsh temperatures.”
Some have dubbed this new feature the “ghetto app,” and it has drawn criticism for being racist.
“It’s pretty appalling,” Sarah E. Chinn, author of “Technology and the Logic of American Racism,” told AOL Autos last week. “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,” continued Chinn. “That phenomenon affects many more people than the rare occurrences of random violence against motorists driving through ‘bad’ neighborhoods.”
But Mary Mitchell, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, is calling out the outrage over the app. She says those who are opposed to the app are smug, considering that the “ghetto app” was labeled as such by the media and pundits, not by Microsoft itself.
“Although the murder rate is down more than 2 percent citywide, neighborhoods plagued by gangs and drugs, like Englewood, saw a dramatic increase in homicides,” said Mitchell. “It is no wonder so many Black people have fled to the suburbs.
“But whenever anyone dares point out that this madness is not happening in all of the city’s neighborhoods and is primarily occurring in neighborhoods that are predominantly Black, many of us bristle over the ugly truth,” she continued. “In this instance, asking if the so-called ‘ghetto app’ is racist is asking the wrong question.
“The question we should consider is whether it is racist to refer to Microsoft’s pending patent as a ‘ghetto app’ in the first place?” contended Mitchell. “‘Ghetto’ was scuttled by the media decades ago because it was deemed to be an offensive term used to describe low-income and crime-affected neighborhoods. Today, people throw the word around as if it were innocuous.”