Skip to main content

Could the SketchFactor app be construed as racist?

The app uses the wisdom of the crowd to identify bad neighbourhoods and the Twitterverse says it is racist.

New York based entrepreneurs, Daniel Harrington and Allison McGuire, have created a Manhattan-based navigation app that lets users' experiences mix with existing data to determine if a neighbourhood is "sketchy."

SketchFactor is not a trolling for users. It has been named as a finalist for a New York city competition that is funded by the city and highlights technologies that are meant to improve the quality of life for residents.

Read more: Apple iOS 8 to offer speedy location-based app suggestions

McGuire is actually from Los Angeles, and got the idea for the app having had to make her way through the streets of Washington DC when she worked there. Herrington, her co-founder, is an engineer and they funded the start-up with the help of money from friends and family.

Among the issues that people have with the app that it is asking for anonymous user input on what is judged a sketchy neighbourhood and what is not. And while the co-founders, both young and white, claim that it is not built for young and white people the whole approach seems to subjective. The app makers want users to report incidents of racism against them and hope that the experiences they collect are broad enough to not warrant any perceptions of racism.

According to Crain's the app has created quite a stir on Twitter where commentators are a bemoaning the fact that the app is going to target minorities and minority neighbourhoods.

Read more: Facebook app announces Android Wear support

Now, if you ask us, the little graphic doodle for SketchFactor doesn't look very race friendly and that's all we are going to say about that. That's a subjective opinion. However, the app makers are feeling the heat from the negative commentary that is spreading to other publications and a message on the site reads as follows:

It's no secret. We’ve seen the negative press.Setting the record straight: SketchFactor is a tool for anyone, anywhere, at any time.


Touchy, touchy. If the two founders wanted to be arbiters of what is "sketchy" and what is not then, they should be open to the criticism. Maybe they should have anticipated the reaction if they had truly consulted with the minority groups in New York City.

It's unlikely that people in the neighbourhoods most likely to be targeted as sketchy need anyone to crowdsource that information for them. They kind of live it every day and it seems pretty logical based on the existing data to assume that very few, if any , of those areas are going to be white neighbourhoods.

So, maybe there is something to be said for the reaction to the app. Judge for yourself.

Image: Peter Cigliano, Flickr.