Is SketchFactor a racist app?

The app uses the wisdom of the crowd to identify bad neighborhoods and the Twitterverse says it is racist. 

New York based entrepreneurs, Daniel Harrington and Allison McGuire, have created a Manhattan-based navigation app that lets users experiences mix with existing data to determine if a neighborhood is "sketchy."

SketchFactor is not a trolling for users. It has been named as a finalist for a New York city competition that is funded by the city and highlights technologies that are meant to improve the quality of life for residents.

McGuire is actually from Los Angeles, and got the idea for the app having had to make her way through the streets of Washington DC when she worked there. Herrington, her co-founder, is an engineer and they funded the start-up with the help of money from friends and family.

Among the issues that people have with the app that it is asking for anonymous user input on what is judged a sketchy neighborhood and what is not. And while the co-founders, both young and white, claim that it is not built for young and white people the whole approach seems to subjective. The app makers want users to report incidents of racism against them and hope that the experiences they collect are broad enough to not warrant any perceptions of racism.

According to Crain's the app has created quite a stir on Twitter where commentators are a bemoaning the fact that the app is going to target minorities and minority neighborhoods.

Now, if you ask us, the little graphic doodle for SketchFactor doesn't look very race friendly and that's all we are going to say about that. That's a subjective opinion. However, the app makers are feeling the heat from the negative commentary that is spreading to other publications and a message on the site reads as follows:

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. 

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. 


Touchy, touchy. If the two founders wanted to be arbiters of what is "sketchy" and what is not then, they should be open to the criticism. Maybe they should have anticipated the reaction if they had truly consulted with the minority groups in New York City.

It's unlikely that people in the neighborhoods most likely to be targeted as sketchy need anyone to crowdsource that information for them. They kind of live it every day and it seems pretty logical based on the existing data to assume that very few, if any , of those areas are going to be white neighborhoods.

So, maybe there is something to be said for the reaction to the app. Judge for yourself.

Joe Jejune

I am a gadget freak and love everything about technology. In my day job I work at a startup and help build applications for the healthcare industry. 


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