Neighborhood App SketchFactor Responds To Racism Complaints

A new app that allows users to rate the "relative sketchiness" of an area is being accused of allowing users to stereotype minority neighborhoods.

Neighborhood App SketchFactor Responds To Racism Complaints
Newsy Staff

SketchFactor is a navigation app that relies on public data and crowdsourced information to rate areas for their "relative sketchiness." What's sketchiness? Well, the company says it's in the eye of the beholder: "To you, it may mean dangerous. To someone else, it may mean weird."

But some are concerned the app will be used — unintentionally or otherwise — to perpetuate racism and classism.

Along with labeling SketchFactor as a "racist app," several outlets were quick to point out the app's creators are both white — running headlines with the phrases "white people," and "white duo."

The company has since responded to the concern on its website, writing "SketchFactor is a tool for anyone, anywhere, at any time. ... We’ve consulted with literally hundreds of different people, dozens of community groups across New York City ... This is the app that came of it."

Oddly enough, most of the backlash surrounding the app — which didn't launch until Friday — came on or before that day.

In other words, most concern was based solely on the assumption the app would be used to label areas sketchy based on race or class. We decided to take a look at the app, which is now available in Apple's app store. For what it's worth, of the 100 reports we viewed there were seven mentions of race. 

Allison McGuire, one of the app's creators, spoke to Crain's New York. She told the outlet she considers racial profiling to be just as sketchy as any other instances reported in the app. "We are trying to empower users to report incidents of racism against them and define their own experience of the streets."

But a writer for The Inquisitr argues, despite the creators' intentions, there's still a good chance the app could stereotype minority neighborhoods. "The sketch factor of an area can be determined by how dangerous it is perceived to be, the saturation of drug use, or places that simply make the individual feel uncomfortable. Each of these classifications can be incorporated with stereotypes of various ethnic and racial neighborhoods, which can influence the way the area is perceived within the app."

And New York Daily News points out while SketchFactor says it uses official crime data in its app, the city of New York doesn't offer up a comprehensive, digitized crime database so "sketchiness" ratings are based solely on user experience.

One of SketchFactor's primary features is a rating system, allowing users to "upvote" ratings they agree with and "downvote" those they don't. Which means users will be able to have a say if they think SketchFactor's ratings for their neighborhood are unfair.