The joy of Microsoft's 'avoid ghetto' GPS patent

Microsoft is granted a patent for a GPS that will help pedestrians avoid high-crime areas and high-heat areas. Some say this will discriminate against poor neighborhoods.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Pedestrians have sometimes felt neglected when it comes to GPS directions.

Indeed, not so long ago, one lady sued Google because the directions its map offered led her (she believed) to be struck by a car.

Now Microsoft has been granted a patent that is designed to make its maps more pedestrian-friendly.

Somehow, this patent has immediately been dubbed the "avoid ghetto" feature.

Someone seems to have already attempted a ghetto-related mapping exercise, in Ohio. CC JimBobThe Boss/Flickr

The gist of it seems to be that Microsoft's GPS--which will reportedly be inserted into Windows Phones in the future--will use input from more varied and up-to-date sources in order to create suggested routes.

Among these sources are crime statistics. Which has led some to the thought that this will somehow be an insult to poor neighborhoods.

What is unclear, at least from my reading of the patent--which isn't written by anything resembling a human hand or mind--is what kind of crime statistics the GPS might choose to use.

It's one thing to avoid areas where there might have occurred physical assaults and gunfire. It's another to avoid, say, places where burglaries are popular, as one suspects quite a few allegedly nice areas are subject to burglars' desires.

With some areas, past performance isn't a guarantee of future results. What if someone using a route from this system does get mugged, shot, assaulted, or robbed? Would they feel entitled to sue Microsoft because the route was supposed to be "ghetto-free"?

The patent talks about the quality of the information. But quality is a subjective notion, so one wonders just whose assessment of quality will be deemed significant.

The patent also holds within it some other little gems. It seeks to help the pedestrian avoid "harsh temperatures." Some people like harsh temperatures, but this system will also store people's pedestrian information to offer, one assumes, a more personalized heat-level for the route.

How personalized should it be, though? My eyes perform slightly odd twitches when I read this sentence from the patent: "Various features can integrate with route presentment, such as integrating an advertisement targeted to a pedestrian with a direction set."

Is this suggesting that Windows Phones will give pedestrians a route that will take them past specific ads? What a curious and slightly mind-altering thought.

One wonders whether those who use the system might also be offered an "avoid ads" option.