People have often remarked that GPSs should have features that let you avoid certain neighborhoods. What sounded like a sort of racist and half-hearted joke about the trappings of technology is now becoming a reality.

From ABC News:

Microsoft has patented a GPS feature that helps users avoid dangerous places. It’s been dubbed “Avoid the Ghetto”. The feature develops a route that takes into account unsafe neighborhoods, bad weather and dangerous terrain. It has been created especially for mobile phones with GPS technology, but there are fears that “Avoid the Ghetto” could penalize poor neighborhoods.

“People really don’t want to get shot or car jacked. It really has nothing to do with dissing poor people. It has to do with staying alive and you know a lot of what’s going on with cars these days has an awful lot to do with staying alive. It’s certainly what makes a lot of this technology work and what allows people to justify paying for it,” said Rob Enderle from the Enderle Group.

Putting my safety first is paramount, especially as a woman who often travels alone and drives a ten-year-old car while doing it. I’m also new to my city so I live and die by my GPS gadget, but when my GPS sends me through a bad neighborhood I never make the connection. I’m more sensitive to the fact that it sometimes routes me through spooky desolate areas or underneath freeway overpasses where the real scary stuff takes place. If I find myself in what looks like a “bad” neighborhood, I don’t think about getting car jacked (people still do that?), I just keep it moving. Should I be profiling neighborhoods harder? Am I risking my safety by not doing so?

There’s something discomforting about a system that labels certain neighborhoods as “unsafe” while the other features of the system merely account for dangerous terrain (what are we, driving up the sides of mountains here?) and weather (because there’s a rain cloud hovering over a single street?). The whole thing vaguely stinks of discrimination, but there’s a part of me that would be curious about the possible safety benefits because frankly I’m trying to protect my neck…

What do you think?

  • Mel

    Hahaha! A lot of people attempting to get to their college campus will be out of luck. The entire of US Route 1 to University of Maryland would be avoided completely for people not familiar with the area. Most routes to hospitals in big cities would be avoided, every street in Baltimore, St. Louis, Detriot, the Bronx, a large portion of Los Angeles, most of West Virginia’s mountain folk trails would be avoided. The list is endless and would require constant updates and revised ratings for neighborhoods to assess the level of “bad”. I can only imagine the complexity of the algorithm the programmers will create for this GPS. I know that I would use the hell out of this GPS option. Just waiting until it becomes an iPhone APP.

  • Los Angeles Toyota

    Microsoft did not call this GPS app Avoid The Ghetto; the media did… Personally, I do think about being car jacked all the time. Perhaps I am paranoid but I am always very aware when driving through neighborhoods that are sketchier than others. I even worry sometimes about accidentally being shot by a maniac just driving down the freeway in a good area. It’s L.A. It can happen.

  • Socially Maladjusted

    So would this system flag up neighbourhoods where black people get arrested, jailed and death rowed or killed for no reason – like the place where Trayvon Martin was brutally murdered by a racist savage?

    Oops sorry that could be anywhere in america.

    kiss teet.

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