In a world filled with rapidly advancing technology, it seems as if there truly is an app for everything. Or at least there was. On Sept. 3, the app “Ghetto Tracker” made an appearance in app stores. Its life span was short, abruptly disappearing just two days amidst intense backlash and criticism.
The app was designed to do exactly what its title implies: It allowed users to locate and avoid areas deemed “ghetto” in any given city. In other words, it allowed elitists to steer clear of the lower-class “villains” of society.
Not surprisingly, Ghetto Tracker failed almost immediately after its launch due to criticism of its racist nature. The controversial app served to reinforce the widespread notion that low-income areas are places that completely lack anything positive and thus, should be shunned.
The first problem with this app is its name: Ghetto Tracker. The term “ghetto,” in its prevalent modern form, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure.” The app tracked down these minority-dominated areas and flagged them in order for others to avoid them. In this sense, Ghetto Tracker clearly served as a racist tool in averting the poor and minorities.
What’s even more offensive about it? The information utilized by Ghetto Tracker was not gathered from FBI crime statistics or similar official data analyses; rather, it was the subjective assessment of neighborhoods by middle and upper-class individuals that quite unjustly labeled entire areas as unsafe due to underprivileged criminals.
Some might defend Ghetto Tracker because it allegedly allows users to simply avoid unsafe areas regardless of racial and social implications while visiting an unfamiliar city. This defense would have sufficed, provided that the information used by the app in determining which areas were “ghetto” and which were not was derived from legitimate measurements of crime rates rather than from user partiality stemming from pure prejudice.
By disregarding official crime-reporting statistics, Ghetto Tracker allowed for the categorization of entire poor and crime-prevalent areas as undesirable and dreadful to outsiders, thus damning all of their low-income residents as delinquents socioeconomic situations.
Within a day of the launch of Ghetto Tracker, the app’s name was hastily changed to “Good Part of Town” in an attempt to counter criticisms. Perhaps with this name and legitimate government statistics, the app would have been successful. With the way the app was launched, however, changing the name to Good Part of Town did little to help alleviate explosive tensions surrounding the situation.
In fact, the name change only reinforced the fact that the “good parts” of town are those in which wealth and Caucasian homogeneity flourish, and that anywhere composed of a poor minority demographic is obviously a “bad part” of town.
But if all of this still doesn’t seem sufficient to deem Ghetto Tracker as a prejudiced app, then consider the header photo that welcomed users to the app’s web page: a photo of a smiling, well-to-do Caucasian family, insinuating that white folks do not live in the “ghetto.”
The app creators tried to ameliorate the problem by changing the photo on their company website to a black family sitting together in their living room sporting cheerful smiles, hurriedly swapping an all-white photo at one end of the racial spectrum for an all-black one at the polar opposite doesn’t make their app any less racist. It only reinforces the vile nature of designing an app for which the primary user constituency is of the Caucasian, privileged background wanting to avoid less fortunate, “dangerous” individuals of African-American and other backgrounds.
Ultimately, what the app brings to light are the dire issues of socioeconomic class divisions and the blind racial prejudice that sadly continues to plague this country. The app reinforces the overpowering misconception that poor communities overwhelmingly composed of ethnic minorities are wholly dangerous and undesirable. Affluent, predominantly Caucasian neighborhoods are without exception pleasant areas, further propagating the notion that these areas can almost always be understood to be safe and favorable.
Social inequality still occurs in this nation, as emphasized by the implications made and reactions garnered by Ghetto Tracker. Until these socioeconomic gaps can effectively be lessened, racial and social tensions will continue to mount within almost all aspects of American society, from politics to media to everyday technologies.
Rojine Ariani is a sophomore majoring in international relations and political science.
Follow Rojine on Twitter @RojineTAriani