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Mobile consumers are giving two Washington, D.C., developers the side-eye for creating an app to help people avoid “sketchy” areas.

Allison McGuire and Daniel Herrington thought they were doing a good thing when they created SketchFactor, a mobile app  which lets users rate areas based on how safe they perceive it to be. It would allow users to report potentially dangerous incidents as they come across them.

The problem here is that SketchFactor is based on completely subjective criteria. Since SketchFactor was created by two white people, it’s getting lots of backlash with criticism that the app is racist, which Allison and Daniel deny. “We understand that people will see this issue,” Ms. McGuire said in an interview with Crain’s. “And even though Dan and I are admittedly both young, white people, the app is not built for us as young, white people. As far as we’re concerned, racial profiling is ‘sketchy’ and we are trying to empower users to report incidents of racism against them and define their own experience of the streets.”

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It’s certainly possible for the app to reflect prejudiced reporting in any given area, but this would be more of a reflection on the users than the actual creators.

Besides, the idea behind SketchFactor is not a new concept. reports that back in 2008, Honda had installed GPS systems into certain models of its vehicles that would let drivers know when they were in a “bad neighborhood.” The modification was first tested in the Japanese market, and bad areas were defined by high crime rate and how likely it was that a car would be stolen or vandalized in a given neighborhood.

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In 2012, Microsoft came under fire for creating a GPS patent that would alert pedestrians to dangerous areas, bad weather and tough terrain. When asking for directions, the proposed app would take walkers on the safest path through neighborhoods with lower crime rates.

These aren’t bad ideas on their own, but they were framed rather poorly, and people do love to find a reason to be outraged. The truth of the matter is that SketchFactor could be a helpful app (who wouldn’t want to know what areas to avoid on the way home?), but consumers may now be less likely to use it because of the great potential it has to define the safety of a given neighborhood by its racial makeup.


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