Monday, September 09, 2013

is crime and poverty data-aggregation racist?


theatlantic | A service called "Ghetto Tracker" appeared online at the beginning of this week and quickly drew criticism for its racist and classist overtones. Shortly after, the site was renamed "Good Part of Town." Its creator, who would only identify himself as a 30-something-year-old in Tallahassee, told Gawker: "This was originally seriously developed as a travel tool and the name 'Ghetto Tracker' was meant to be something that people would remember."

The basic premise of Ghetto Tracker/Good Part of Town -- to crowdsource travel advice – actually isn’t so outrageous, but the framing, even without the word "Ghetto" in the name, and the intention -- to label whole geographic areas as "good" or "bad," "safe" and "unsafe" -- make the operation distasteful.

Yet in the growing field of geo-web applications, incorporating safety judgments into navigational aids is becoming increasingly common. Accusations of reinforcing racist or classist stereotypes could be lobbed at any of those apps. "In any form," writes Emily Badger at The Atlantic Cities, "this idea toes a touchy line between a utilitarian application of open data and a sly wink toward people who just want to steer clear of 'those kinds of neighborhoods.'"

So how should we think about these apps? When does technology step over that line from being merely useful to becoming insidiously stereotype-enforcing?

Anyone can investigate a neighborhood by looking up local crime rates, median income, and demographics online – not to mention the information gleaned from word-of-mouth reports. To perform such research and then make a decision about traveling to a particular area involves critical thinking, which is hardly objectionable. The ethical problem occurs when your mobile device takes over that thinking for you. Fist tap Dale.

2 comments:

Uglyblackjohn said...

Curious to see how many neighborhoods overlap with the Negro Motorist's Green Book.

CNu said...

Been chatting with a mentor now returned in retirement to his hometown in Florida. This cat is working to organize folks to resist the large scale effort to move folks out of their traditional inner city enclaves because there's significant future value in that real-estate. I was shocked when he told me the extent to which some of the old-heads in and around this city lament the end of Jim Crow which had enabled their families to thrive in business by denying the resident consumers of the formerly segregated neighborhoods access to competitive alternatives outside the neighborhood.


Superficially, one might be inclined to view the history of the ghetto as having gone hardcore in the aftermath of the riots. The fact of the matter is that there was (and there remains) significant psychosocial ghettoization on the part of managerial/professional class people who have had a longterm lock on underserving customers constituents in the hood. One wonders if that Negro Motorists Green Book was as much a guide to racially safe/hospitable establishments as it was a paid ad book for shysty-divey establishments which didn't really treat their customers the way they deserved to be treated?


Flickers and glimpses of this history and of its remnants contribute greatly to my hardening disdain for the 2nd/3rd line inheritors, gatekeepers, and other flotsam and jetsam of the civil rights movement....,