The Washington Post

Microsoft’s ‘avoid ghetto’ patent destined for failure?

(Spencer Platt/GETTY IMAGES)

The feature was first dubbed the “avoid ghetto” feature by CBS News Seattle, and the nickname has stuck.

More from a document filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office: “A route can be developed for a person taking into account factors that specifically affect a pedestrian,”such as being in an unsafe neighborhood or in an area subject to harsh temperatures.

In the District, there’s no shortage of [wildly inaccurate] documentation dedicated to avoiding certain areas of the city — remember the pre-“Rally to Restore Sanity” Web site that advised visitors to avoid entire lines on Metro? And in a city where crime occurs in each of the city’s quadrants, would a tool like this one succeed?

The concept, and the details of its implementation, is raising eyebrows from the tech community.

“What is unclear, at least from my reading of the patent — which isn’t written by anything resembling a human hand or mind — is what kind of crime statistics the GPS might choose to use,” writes Chris Matyszczyk of CNET.

A phone feature that encourages users to avoid problem areas of a city — potentially hurting those areas’ reputations and economies in the process — may soon draw more controversy than it does accolades; council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) learned the hard way after referring to his neighborhood as the “ghetto” last September.

Would you use or recommend such a tool to a person visiting or new to the District? Answer in the comments below.


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