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App That Would Guide Users Away From High-Crime Areas Proves Controversial

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – An in-development Microsoft smart phone app designed to help drivers and pedestrians avoid unsafe neighborhoods is proving controversial among some minority rights groups that find the software potentially discriminatory.

The as-of-yet unnamed product is being referred to as the “Avoid The Ghetto” app by those who are concerned with where it will guide users.

“I’m going to be up in arms about it if it happens,” said Dallas NAACP President Juanita Wallace.

Wallace spent her afternoon at a rally on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and said she felt safe there, but fears the app may project otherwise.

“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,” she said.

Microsoft says the app will use crime statistics to determine what parts of town are to be avoided. But it’s unclear where the data will come from and how it will be interpreted.

Microsoft has filed a patent for the app, but the actual product is unnamed and not available yet.

Opponents like Wallace fear it could hurt minority communities.

“It’s almost like gerrymandering,” she said. “It’s stereotyping for sure and without a doubt; I can’t emphasize enough, it’s discriminatory.”

Michael McNally, who was visiting Dallas Tuesday, said an app shouldn’t have enough power to label a community.

“It may have a high crime problem but have some great cultural, social things you can do there,” McNally said.

Dallas resident Chris Hurst said it sounds like a good safety tool.

“I’d be all for it because you can never be too safe,” he said.

Tommy Jones, who works downtown, said an app like Microsoft’s could hurt a city’s economy.

“From a business standpoint, it could be devastating,” he said. “Especially in the area of tourism.”

Economic development is a major initiative that Mayor Mike Rawlings is pushing in parts of the city that the app may suggest against visiting.

Wallace is concerned this type of technology would continue to perpetuate stereotypes in Dallas and beyond.

“What happens in North Dallas certainly ought to be no different than what happens in South Dallas, so we can’t keep on doing this,” she said. “This type of technology is certainly going to pronounce and heighten it to some degree.”

Microsoft declined to comment, issuing a statement that said the company “does not comment on filed or awarded patents.”
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