People have often remarked that GPSs should have features that let you avoid certain neighborhoods. What sounded like a sort of racist and half-hearted joke about the trappings of technology is now becoming a reality.

From ABC News:

Microsoft has patented a GPS feature that helps users avoid dangerous places. It’s been dubbed “Avoid the Ghetto”. The feature develops a route that takes into account unsafe neighborhoods, bad weather and dangerous terrain. It has been created especially for mobile phones with GPS technology, but there are fears that “Avoid the Ghetto” could penalize poor neighborhoods.

“People really don’t want to get shot or car jacked. It really has nothing to do with dissing poor people. It has to do with staying alive and you know a lot of what’s going on with cars these days has an awful lot to do with staying alive. It’s certainly what makes a lot of this technology work and what allows people to justify paying for it,” said Rob Enderle from the Enderle Group.

Putting my safety first is paramount, especially as a woman who often travels alone and drives a ten-year-old car while doing it. I’m also new to my city so I live and die by my GPS gadget, but when my GPS sends me through a bad neighborhood I never make the connection. I’m more sensitive to the fact that it sometimes routes me through spooky desolate areas or underneath freeway overpasses where the real scary stuff takes place. If I find myself in what looks like a “bad” neighborhood, I don’t think about getting car jacked (people still do that?), I just keep it moving. Should I be profiling neighborhoods harder? Am I risking my safety by not doing so?

There’s something discomforting about a system that labels certain neighborhoods as “unsafe” while the other features of the system merely account for dangerous terrain (what are we, driving up the sides of mountains here?) and weather (because there’s a rain cloud hovering over a single street?). The whole thing vaguely stinks of discrimination, but there’s a part of me that would be curious about the possible safety benefits because frankly I’m trying to protect my neck…

What do you think?

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