New iPhone app ‘SketchFactor’ bills itself as a way for people to avoid potentially dangerous or ‘sketchy’ neighborhoods. Since its release it has generated a huge amount of controversy over its implications for communities and potential for misuse. Read our below list of four reasons for why this app is causing so much anger and controversy:
1. It is potentially classist
SketchFactor is an app which intends to help people avoid sketchy areas, but if there is one thing that hold true about sketchy areas, it is that they are usually poor. Often these areas have visible signs of poverty (such as unmaintained gardens, excessive graffiti or damaged infrastructure) which SketchFactor encourages users to report, effectively stigmatizing poverty itself. Such classist attitudes only serve to reinforce these negative stereotypes and hurt the economy of poor areas further still.
2. It could encourage racial segregation
It also unfortunate that in many parts of the world (and especially within the US) poorer and higher crime areas are often separated along racial lines. It has been alleged that SketchFactor facilitates casual racism and segregation by giving nominally white people the ability to avoid “sketchy” areas which are likely to contain a higher number of non-whites and a perceived higher crime rate.
3. Anyone can edit it
SketchFactor aims to crowdsource the information which its users then use to make decisions on which part of town they visit. Users report information on how they feel about the sketchiness of an area and rate it along a scale. The problem with this is that these reports are likely to be highly unreliable and heavily influenced by the biases of the person reporting the information. A better option would be for this app to use publically available crime statistics to determine the true danger of a given area.
4. Single bad experiences can hurt local communities
Even in the best of neighbourhoods crime occurs. Should such crime (or even signs of ‘sketchiness’) appear in an area, and then be uploaded to SketchFactor, it would discourage people from visiting, despite the fact that these areas are generally safe. Due to the actions of single user, other users could avoid an area, causing it economic damage and greatly amplifying the negative effect of a single incident of crime.
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