Subtle Racism Evident in New Smartphone App

Ashley is a junior international studies major.

Ashley is a junior international studies major.

Innovation and progress are the quintessential aspects of startup companies. Ideally, they will continue to provide solutions to the dynamic challenges faced by various societies.

Recently, a startup has emerged claiming to have the solution to a problem that resonates with me personally: safety. Wouldn’t you like to be able to know the safe areas of town when you’re traveling (or even just walking alone)? This business promises to keep you safer by giving you access to insight on “which parts of town are safe, and which parts are ghetto or unsafe.”  Unfortunately, not all startups share progressive virtues.

GhettoTracker, which has since changed its name to “Good Part of Town” due to immense scrutiny, uses crowdsourced information to identify “ghetto” parts of town. If you had any doubts about the good intentions of this service, their website is fully equipped with the obligatory photo of a white suburban family smiling in their yard. Presumably, those individuals would not want to be inconvenienced by the crime and violence that is inextricably linked to lower income or ethnic neighborhoods. Sounds harmless, right?

Services geared towards providing travel and safety advice based solely on crowdsourced information, aside from being wildly inaccurate, are perpetuating racial stereotypes. After widespread backlash from the online community, the startup seems to have removed its webpage altogether. However, clips are still available in all their glory, thanks to a series of Tumblr accounts dedicated to “Public Shaming.”

Startups like GhettoTracker (or “Good Part of Town”) are the antithesis of innovation. I find the fact that this was a serious business endeavor (and not a joke) to be truly disturbing. Their service –essentially categorizing large areas and populations of people based on preconceived notions of “local and expert” – is bound to produce skewed and racially charged results.

GhettoTracker’s attempt at packaging a way for privileged people to avoid minorities and less fortunate members of society is tasteless, but it also could have serious implications for public perception and policy. With all the progress and positive change that has arisen out of the social movements in San Francisco alone, how can the startup culture be so hospitable towards a company that so blatantly promotes and intends to profit from racist stereotypes?

309 thoughts on “Subtle Racism Evident in New Smartphone App”

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