The internet is abuzz over a recently issued Microsoft patent, dubbed the “avoid ghetto” patent. Amidst the charges of racial discrimination, you can’t help but wonder how much the kerfuffle tarnishes the Microsoft brand, and whether the patent will even be worth it in the end.
The patent, 8,090,532 (issued January 3, 2012) is titled “Pedestrian route production” and describes ways to steer users away from areas of high crime or bad weather. According to the patent, the user’s phone gathers data including “maps (e.g., extracted from a database), user history, weather information, crime statistics, demographic information” and uses some of that data to form a route. The patent also mentions integrating advertisements into the route, which presumably means presenting ads for nearby shops and restaurants.
It doesn’t sound like the technology is currently available in mobile phones. Nonetheless, it has created some negative press for Microsoft. Here’s a sample:
- • A number of news sources are citing to Sarah Chinn, author of Technology and the Logic of American Racism. She tells the Associated Press that the stats indicated in the app might be skewed to discriminate against particular demographics. “It’s pretty appalling,” Chinn said of the “app,” and further that Microsoft “defines crime statistics as products of race and class identity.”
- • Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed blasts Microsoft’s new GPS aid, contending that technicians in Silicon Valley don’t have the insight to know which neighborhoods are bad, and will base their decisions solely on statistics which can be manipulated.
- • CBS affiliate in Dallas reports on the reaction from Dallas NAACP President Juanita Wallace. Ms. Wallace states “I’m going to be up in arms about it if it happens… Can you imagine me not being able to go to MLK Blvd. because my GPS says that’s a dangerous crime area? I can’t even imagine that.” “It’s almost like gerrymandering,” she said. “It’s stereotyping for sure and without a doubt; I can’t emphasize enough, it’s discriminatory.”