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Crowdsourcing app draws allegations of racism; news crew robbed while investigating
App That Crowdsources 'Sketchy' Areas Fights Charges of Racism
BY DAVID MURPHY
AUGUST 9, 2014 02:16PM EST
The word "sketchy" can mean anything, and that can be a bit of a problem.
On paper, it sounds like a good idea: A smartphone app that uses crowd-sourced data to inform you of the more unsafe areas of your neighborhood. You might not need such a thing if you've lived in a particular area for a while, but it might be useful if you're navigating a new city and have absolutely no idea where you should or shouldn't go.
The problem? Allegations have been made that the app in question, Sketch Factor, is racist—unintentionally or otherwise.
"If the purpose of the app is meant to be about safety — real safety, not just perceived safety — then you'd think the app would rely on actual crime data, at least a little bit, as opposed to purely anecdotal reports.
But no. The app will only tell you what 'seemed sketchy' to other people," Bustle's Emma Cueto writes. "And if we are to assume that most of these users are young white people with smart phones, then it isn't long before people's internalized biases […] start to rear their ugly heads."
While anyone is free to report anything on SketchFactor that he or she perceives as "sketchy"—which can be anything from the presence of people on a street corner that an individual doesn't particularly feel safe around to something as benign as poor lighting in a particular area—the app does pull in crime data for cities that offer it. As reported by the New York Daily News, Washington D.C. and Chicago are two such examples, though New York City is not.
"We're hoping that an app like this can excite the city of New York into digitizing some of its crime data," said the app's co-founder, Allison McGuire, told the paper.
As for the allegations of racism, McGuire and the app's other founder, Daniel Herrington, have been quick to address the issues on SketchFactor's website.
"SketchFactor is a tool that can be used anywhere at any time by anyone. The app is not exclusive to privileged communities or tourists. Many of our users experience racial profiling, police misconduct, and harassment. We encourage all users to report this information. In addition, we partner with community organizations to ensure all members of the community have access to this app," reads the app's FAQ.
The founders have also taken to the app's homepage to refute the allegations.
"It's no secret. We've seen the negative press. Setting the record straight: SketchFactor is a tool for anyone, anywhere, at any time. We have a reporting mechanism for racial profiling, harassment, low lighting, desolate areas, weird stuff, you name it. When people actually download the app, they see that this is truly a tool for everyone," reads the announcement.
"These hit pieces have attacked the founders personally. We get it, they need clicks. However, the reporters of these pieces never contacted us, never interviewed us, and the app wasn't even live when they wrote it."
For more, check out PCMag Live in the video, which discusses the controversy surrounding the app.
Then, the irony comes in:
D.C. news crew robbed while reporting on "sketchy" neighborhoods
CBS NEWS August 10, 2014, 10:39 AM
Sometimes - but not always - news reporters get exactly what they are looking for when covering a story.
For one news crew from CBS News affiliate WUSA in Washington, D.C., they got a little more.
The news crew's vehicle was burglarized while they were working on a story about a controversial app that alerts people to "sketchy" neighborhoods, WUSA reports.
The crew had locked their news van on a street in Petworth in Northwest, D.C. while they were out in the neighborhood conducting interviews. When they returned they found the lock had been popped out of the door of their news van, and that most of the crew's gear had been stolen.
Because the thieves stole the cell phone of one of the crew members, they were able to use the "Find my iPhone" app to track down some of their goods to dumpsters in another D.C. neighborhood.
The crew was able to recover some of the stolen items from the dumpsters. The entire crew returned to WUSA's broadcast house unharmed.
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