App Labeling Neighborhoods "Sketchy" Spawns Backlash

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The creators of a new app called "Sketch Factor" say they're arming users with information about their neighborhoods. But does it paint a fair picture? Sheldon Dutes has more. (Published Monday, Aug 11, 2014)

    A new app purporting to arm New Yorkers with information about "problem areas" that include poorly lighted streets, dangerous traffic patterns, suspicious people and crime is creating some backlash from residents in neighborhoods that are being labeled "sketchy."

    The app, called Sketch Factor, geotags reports of "trouble spots" from app users and maps them. Its creators did research in Washington, D.C. and it is now available across the country. In New York City, Manhattan has had the most tags.

    Some New Yorkers said they'd be curious to see what people were saying about their neighborhood and the app could potentially be a good tool for both residents and out-of-towners. But others said labeling an area as "sketchy" is in the eye of the beholder.

    "It may appear suspicious to one person, but can appear normal to another person," said Wendy Small of Elmont.

    And on the company's Facebook page, critics have complained the app could have a negative impact on minority communities.

    One commenter wrote: "If your app works the way you envision it, and people use it to the same degree they use something like Yelp, this will lead to people disproportionately avoiding minority communities, and potentially drive down commercial investment and property values in minority neighborhoods." 

    App co-creator Allison McGuire said, "We are not interested in painting a neighborhood as sketchy or an area as sketchy. In fact, that's why we created Sketch Factor -- to pinpoint exact trouble spots."

    She added that people who use the app can report instances of racial profiling.

    "We've partnered with people who are doing amazing work on the ground to include their communities," she said. "We're giving them a platform to give them more data to prove out their points to make cities better."

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