Issue of the Week LIX: Is the Ghetto Tracker App Racist?

September 23, 2013
Written by Glenn Minnis in
National Collegiate Dialogue
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Ghetto Tracker App Ad
Manufacturers of the “Ghetto Tracker” application tout the creation as merely a way to help wayward travelers track, identify and avoid dangerous neighborhoods. Photo Credit:

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that racial segregation is much more prevalent today than at any other time over the last decade and many fear with modern day creations such as the so-called "Ghetto Tracker App" there's little chance of conditions vastly improving any time soon.

While manufacturers tout the creation as merely a way to help wayward travelers track, identify and avoid dangerous neighborhoods, critics insists it's a callously coordinated effort by the haves to further distance themselves from the have nots by devising a code language all of their own to transmit subliminal messages to one another. So swift and forceful has been the backlash against the movement, the name of the device has already formally been changed to "Good Part of Town."

In addition to the name change, all mention of the word "ghetto" has been removed from the site of the company promoting the device and its homepage now features a caption of an ethnically diverse family, a far cry from the site's original advertisement which pictured a white family of four smiling alongside the app's promise to show users "which parts of town are safe and which ones are ghetto, and unsafe."

But branding and heartfelt sentiment can be two different things. And thus far, all the company's PR maneuvering has done little to alter the public's perception of the app or the motivations behind it. Critics yet slam it as a racist, classist tilt toward even greater separatism.

Does society's increasing reliance on mobile technology open the door for "technological redlining," where applications will make it easy to avoid encountering people that  are different from us or places that have been defined, rightly or wrongly, by stereotypes.

"I can't be held responsible for the assumptions people may make in regards to factors like race and income," the App's creator, who in a letter to Gawker Media, would only describe himself as a 30-something-year-old in Tallahassee, nonetheless argues "I've seen comments on blogs and in twitter that are trying to say this is encouraging racism or social stratification and that was never our intention. This was originally seriously developed as a travel tool and the name 'Ghetto Tracker' was meant to be something that people would remember."

Consider that mission accomplished – at least the latter half of it. Gawker reported stern criticism of the device's original name have come from such varying sources as the family of a woman who had been contained in an actual World War II ghetto to that of a man who grew up in a struggling neighborhood and went on to graduate from college and overcome his upbringing.

"It's pretty detrimental to society when we reinforce the idea that poor or crime-heavy areas are places to be categorically avoided or shamed," David Holmes wrote on PandoDaily. "As if to assume that every person who lives in an area with comparatively high crime or poverty is a criminal, or that these areas are devoid of culture or positivity."

Jim Thatcher, a geographer at Clark University worries society's increasing reliance on mobile technology opens the door for something he defines as "technological redlining," which he describes as the act of applications making it "easy to malign certain areas and even obliterate the possibility of our encountering certain people, places and events," even though they're presented to us as neutral or even chance occurrences.

"If I go online and look up crime reports for a certain area and decide that five murders on this street is too much for me" Thatcher concludes one is aware of their own motivation for staying away from that street. "On the other hand, when a mobile app performs a similar analysis for a user, the user cannot be aware of the motivations behind the final decision. Blind trust kicks in."

What do you think?

National Collegiate Dialogue


The app is a good

Submitted by CSULBF2013-03 on

The app is a good theory. I think that if someone is particularly concerned about areas being unsafe/hazardous/dangerous/scary/risky/perilous, then they should look at the city's crime report, or better yet, call the city police and inquire about specific areas that you may not know much about. An app is a bit much. Very few people enjoy being labeled as ghetto. You might want to be euphemistic and call it a shantytown. In all seriousness though, yes people get offended. Let the police deal with these sorts of things.

I can totally see where a lot

Submitted by STBONF2013-09 on

I can totally see where a lot of the criticism comes from. To label the name of the app "Ghetto Tracker" is, in my mind, a blatantly offensive title.
However, I can see why some people would be attracted to it. If I was to travel to a completely unknown city, I'd want to know what parts are safe in terms of crime levels and whatnot. Hell, I may have even downloaded it. I've grown up close enough to a city to know that there are some parts to travel to and some parts you simply don't. It isn't the fact that this app exists that is offensive, it's how it was labeled and publicized.

I agree that it does come off

Submitted by STBONF2013-20 on

I agree that it does come off as a little offence in nature. However, it doesn't matter what race you are or ethnicity, if you are traveling in an area where you really don't know if it is safe or not for your children and family to get out an take a walk or something along those lines. This was stretched to be called a racist app, I think that this is a good idea.

"Ghetto" could be offensive

Submitted by STBONF2013-14 on

I do not think that this app is racist at all. It would clearly be offensive to people who live in the area labeled as ghettos however. It is not saying that the areas you want to avoid are due to race, but rather based on crime statistics. I think it is a good idea for this app,because it allows you to travel the safest route based on the least amount of crime. The use of the word ghetto is offensive though

A Different Route

Submitted by STBONF2013-10 on

I believe that this app is a good idea, but is carried out in the wrong way. The app does have a catchy name, and for that I applaud them. They chose something that would stick. But I believe that the app should have approached this idea more quantitative way. The app could have given crime reports of different areas and color coated the areas to display the areas that could possibly be more of a gamble. Although this app will help people be more aware of the current violence condition of the neighborhood, the phrasing of the software could be adjusted to be more proper and quantitative.

Great Idea, Wrong Perceptions

Submitted by STBONF2013-16 on

To me personally, I don't think this app is racist in the sense that the developers went into the creation of this app with the intention of it being something to separate people even further. However, what I feel is more disturbing is that people are taking a genuinely ingenious idea that would actually help some people travel home more safely and they are turning it into a race issue when in reality, it's just what the developers say it is - a travel app. I find the fact that yes, a better name could have been picked but just because of an app with a name like that and after it was rectified shouldn't be vilified. They say that we are putting too much trust into the app, but isn't that what we do with anything we find online? We trust what we see, and that's just the way modern technology works.

Although the title is not

Submitted by STBONF2013-29 on

Although the title is not appropriate, it is catchy. I'm sure the creator was thinking of what would attract customers. The title is eye grabbing and honestly, it describes exactly what the customer is looking for. However, the creator mentions that he cant be responsible for the stereotypes that other people make with the name, but I'm sure the stereotype is what got him to think of the name himself. I personally believe people are too sensitive. It is not our fault that these stereotypes come from history and now we just use them in our everyday vocabulary.

I find it hard to believe

Submitted by STBONF2013-26 on

I find it hard to believe that the creator of his "ghetto tracker" did not think his application would be seen as racist and not further the separation between different socioeconomic groups in America. Even though it may help tourists find "safer" routes, I do not like how this app portrays the idea that poor neighborhoods are shameful and need to be avoided.

Of course using the word

Submitted by STBONF2013-22 on

Of course using the word "Ghetto" as a title of an app will bring on controversy. Everyone has a preconceived image in their mind when the word Ghetto is used and I think that's why the created chose that name. I believe that he really did use it so people would remember the app rather than using it in a racist way.But no matter the business strategy I do believe that the word ghetto brings up too much controversy to be considered an appropriate title for an app.


Submitted by STBONF2013-15 on

I don't think the word ghetto is offensive unless people begin to put a race behind the term. This term has been used for over 50 years to describe a location in a city that is more run-down, close corridors, and not exactly a pleasant place to be, any race had the possibility of living here. The idea of this app is not such a bad idea.. if you are traveling around a city and want to avoid any danger this may help. Is the ghetto where all crimes happen? Of course not, I don't know the statistics, but I would assume a good amount of crimes do happen in these parts of cites that are considered to be ghetto. I guess I'm not sure I can think of a much better term that wouldn't be offensive. Slums can also be referred to as a similar type of area but this isnt any more appealing. I don't think this app is racist because it is not implying that a specific race is living in the ghettos.

Sure, the word "ghetto" if

Submitted by PARKS2014-25 on

Sure, the word "ghetto" if offensive, but everyone uses it, sometimes without even realizing it. I think the app is a good idea because if you were staying somewhere that you were not familiar with, then you would definitely want to know where danger is so you can avoid it.

This app is good. helps

Submitted by PARKF2014-09 on

This app is good. helps people to avoid danger.