August 8, 2014 5:22 PM   Subscribe

BigApps (previously) "is a competition that empowers the sharpest minds in tech, design, and business to solve NYC's toughest challenges." One of the finalists is the recently-launched SketchFactor, which aims to help users avoid "sketchy" neighborhoods by posting notes about crime, racial profiling, harassment, and desolation. Not surprisingly, the creators have faced racism accusations. The developers have responded to the charges on their website.
posted by girlmightlive (20 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My complaint is that the app does absolutely nothing to "solve NYC's toughest challenges." If a neighborhood is perceived "sketchy" for any whatever reason, having a bunch of smartphone toting folks avoid it isn't going to help anyone solve anything.

If a neighborhood is really problematic (and that doesn't simply mean poor people or people with a different skin color are present), then we need tools that let the residents of that neighborhood (who have a lot more at stake than random passers-by) better act as a community to seek improvements, which might include things like improved lighting, better streetscapes (including planting trees and gardens), services to assist and house homeless persons and those with drug addictions, increased police patrols, neighborhood watch, cleaning up graffiti, fixing up dilapidated buildings, encouraging new businesses that improve the community, etc...

While I don't particularly like the app, I will agree with them that lazy journalism that doesn't involve asking to speak to them before slamming their work is not a good thing.
posted by zachlipton at 5:57 PM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

"The developers have responded to charges on their website"...

This is code for "The developers should have hired a publicist", right?
posted by jefflowrey at 6:06 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, their response would not fare well in a fisking, but "We get it, they need clicks." is the last refuge of a dot commer.

I'd be curious to learn what the dozens of community groups they consulted with.
posted by rhizome at 6:30 PM on August 8, 2014

Am I correct in guessing that all, if not almost all, of the data consumed by these apps is coming from public data sources? If so, why is this controversial? They're just putting police blotters on a map and selling it.
posted by deathpanels at 6:50 PM on August 8, 2014

You are not correct.

From the BBC article in the FPP: "The app uses crowd-sourced data from users to pinpoint "sketchy" areas as well as to provide safe walking directions."
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:59 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hopefully a bunch of people flag Wall St as "sketcy as fuck" then.
posted by Jimbob at 7:20 PM on August 8, 2014 [15 favorites]

I'm actually a bit annoyed at how much attention this is getting. Usually i'm not one of those "giving them attention is what they want and any of that will just make the problem worse and feed the troll" sorts, but i honestly think the amount of web attention(and even the news, like the tv one my parents watch, at this point) is going to do much but spread it to exactly the kind of people who do want to avoid areas with too many brown people.

It's like "This potentially crappy thing, does it suck? well it's called this and you can download it right here!"

I've been a big supporter conceptually of uberx/lyft, but i'm genuinely afraid that this sort of thing is going to somehow tie into that, and pretty quickly we'll be right back at the old bullshit taxi system where they wont go to certain areas.

and all kinds of other shit, with things that are "crowdsourced" like that.

This just seems so ripe for abuse.
posted by emptythought at 8:00 PM on August 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

And here I was hoping it would be a really good drawing app. NOPE.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:50 PM on August 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

It seems like the crowdsourced sketch factor opens it up to racial profiling, but as the site notes, there's a button for reporting exactly that, and (hopefully) eliminating it from the system. But a straightforward crime map in app form could actually be quite useful in educating people that there are plenty of majority-black neighborhoods that are not at all crime-ridden, and white neighborhoods that are.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:05 PM on August 8, 2014

Draws a circle.
Writes "NYC's toughest challenges" inside that circle.
Draws a second circle intersecting the first.
Writes "problems that can be solved by using smart phones" inside the second circle.
Scrutinizes the tiny sliver of overlap.
posted by RobotHero at 9:08 PM on August 8, 2014 [13 favorites]

Even if this weren't racist and subjective, seems to me that the one thing that would really make a genuinely sketchy place safe is an influx of respectable people. So this seems kind of counterproductive because it's going to reinforce people's existing tendencies. I'd expect it to make scary neighbourhoods even scarier.

(Note here by scary I mean unpopulated and with high risk of crime, not full of people who don't look like me).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:21 AM on August 9, 2014

Also, if this worked like my friend Jonathan's Fix My Street, it would be cool.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:50 AM on August 9, 2014

"Sketchy" has been sounding a lot like a dogwhistle to me lately. Because of the neighborhood I live in, when I tell strangers where I live, they often ask "isn't that neighborhood sketchy?" and it always seems like this way for otherwise progressive, liberal people to ask if a high percentage of the neighborhood's population looks like them and is near their income bracket.

I wouldn't mind (in theory) an app to help me avoid street harassment, but I've been harassed in some of the nicest neighborhoods in the city as well as in my 'sketchy' neighborhood. I am not sure there is a way to avoid it (other than, you know, getting people not to sexually harass).

The defense the app creators wrote is super defensive. They really should have hired a publicist.
posted by matcha action at 6:04 AM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's true that this is dumb app that does nothing to help a city improve. But I will also say that it is disingenuous to claim that all neighborhoods are equally safe/dangerous and that anyone saying otherwise is racist.
posted by the jam at 2:15 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Sketchy" has been sounding a lot like a dogwhistle to me lately.

100% agree, total euphemism treadmill.

It's the race thing way more than the class thing too, because i've lived in mostly white "sketchy" areas, and historically and currently mostly brown people "sketchy" areas.

The white people area was objectively more dangerous, but always read as less so, even though people still saw it as sketchy. The brown people area was objectively safer, and i always felt safer there... but people always acted like it was sketchier.

And the entire circle of people being polled here were progressive "lefty" people and their parents.

So yea, my point is pretty much that there's a class element for sure, but it's like... less than half of it. It's almost entirely a "are there too many brown people? sketchy" thing.
posted by emptythought at 2:28 PM on August 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

After ten years in NYC the only neighborhoods that make me nervous are the ones that have no PEOPLE in them at deep industrial Williamsburg/Bushwick where you walk past five closed tire stores at 10:30 at night and no one's around...though places like that are disappearing. I've found most places where people actually live and are out on the street feel pretty safe.
posted by sweetkid at 8:33 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Apparently, the DC users of this app have been reporting Dragon attacks in some of the affluent suburbs.

I may need to create an account to complain about the orcs in Foggy Bottom and the Lannister army occupying Georgetown....
posted by schmod at 7:56 AM on August 10, 2014

Also, reporting art schools as highly-concentrated areas of sketching...
posted by schmod at 7:57 AM on August 10, 2014

I now remember one of the alleged uses for renting a drone was it could scout ahead when you're in an "unsafe neighborhood."
posted by RobotHero at 5:24 PM on August 10, 2014

« Older 15 Maps That Don't Explain the Middle East at All   |   "I'm his carer." "Yeah, my carer. She cares so I... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments