“GhettoTracker.com” : Technology, Race, and Place

Web developers created a site called “GhettoTracker.com” which PandoDaily yesterday called “the worst site on the Internet” for its thinly veiled racism.  The stockphoto of an uber-white family on the main page raised the question for at least one reporter if the site might not be satirical.

(Image originally at GhettoTracker.com – screenshot from PandoDaily)

When the site’s creator was asked whether the site was meant as satire, he gave the confusing answer:

“The only thing that’s satire is the name, and I’d classify it as more tongue-in-cheek. The functionality is very real and serious.”

The “very real and serious” function of the site can only be understood within the context of the (imagined) white family who would be threatened by a “ghetto.” Yet, the site’s supposed “ghettos” aren’t identified based on actual crime statistics, or any data, but rather they are determined by the site’s users and delineated by their prejudices. Yet, when people responded negatively to the site, the creator was reportedly “surprised.” 

In some ways, the developer shouldn’t have been surprised given the flop of the racist “Avoid Ghetto” app last year. Although, as Gawker points out, such a worldview would not be out-of-place in Silicon Valley, which has turned its disrupting gaze towards weeding out less fortunate members of society.

In the day or so since then, the URL has been redirected to “Good Part of Town,” and the stockphoto of the white family replaced with one of a black family.


(screenshot from Gawker)

The shift from “GhettoTracker” to “Good Part of Town,” along with the shifting iconography of white to black family, suggests a shift from race to class as the main signifier but is no less offensive for this shift.

As with the “Avoid Ghetto” app debacle of last year, this current eruption of racism disturbs the usual ‘colorblind’ discussions about technology. For a time, many leading scholars of technology assumed we were entering a colorblind techno-future.  That turned out not to be the case.

Rather than using Internet technology to “escape” racialized embodiment and spaces, human beings have continually invented new ways to reinscribe race on place and bodies.

Internet technologies like “GhettoTracker” are also revealing for what they tell us about the white fear of crime (part of the white racial frame) and the construction of so-called ‘bad’ neighborhoods. The reality is that “high risk” neighborhoods are most dangerous to those who are living in them, most often poor people, not the more affluent people who are driving through them. To the extent that race and class are mapped onto each other, technologies such as “GhettoTracker” will continue to appeal to their intended audience.


  1. cordoba blue

    A better title would be: Statistically Safe Neighborhoods. Just go by relative statistics of crime committed in various neighborhoods. And it is useful because some neighborhoods do experience more crime than others: usually in the manner of thefts such as break-ins, hubcaps etc. Some neighborhoods I drive through hardly have any cars with hubcaps on them. After 8:00 pm, everybody’s afraid to poke their head out the door.

    • Joe

      Or even better would be “economically oppressed areas because of 400 years of white oppression.” Research clearly demonstrates that whites inherit huge resources from the unjust enrichment they get in society or their ancestors have gotten, while a majority of blacks do not inherit such resources and still face much economic and other social discrimination. People with resources get much better public services, housing, and other services. Get rid of unemployment, history and current data show, and you certainly get rid of most of the street crime that (especially white) people worry about. Where people are poor or unemployed (true for Irish, Polish, Italians in the past), their areas had higher street crime (even those most of the poor do not engage in street crime.) That has worked for the millions of white beneficiaries of all the historical “affirmative action” programs for whites, like the Homestead Act, FHA and VA housing loans, employment programs, federal contracts, social security, etc, since the 1860s.

      Maybe we should also do statistically criminal neighborhoods in terms of white collar crimes, like those on Wall STreet, where crooks almost never get prosecuted even if they near bring down the world economy. That would make for nice “ghetto tracking” too.

      And of course there are all those “white ghettos” where black folks get attacked, police-harrassed, or killed, like Trayvon Martin. So we should do maps of those “statistically unsafe” areas (I guess most of the country?) where it is dangerous for black folks (especially young men) to go out on those streets, too.

      • cordoba blue

        I see your point. And I think it would be a lucrative idea to make maps for different races. For example, for African Americans, there would be maps of where affluent people are especially touchy about who walks through their neighborhood. So they don’t end up being the victim of a neighborhood watch Rambo.
        For whites, there would be maps of high crime rate neighborhoods because they don’t want to be caught with a flat tire (and their children in the back seat) in a neighborhood where, if you blink, everything you own is gone.
        For Asians, there would be maps of high crime areas also. For people from India, same situation. My Asian and Indian customers are very afraid of buying houses or sending their children to school in high crime areas.
        As far as Wall Street goes, brokers know every trick in a very big book on how to bamboozle the inexperienced investor out of every dime you own. The only money that makes money on Wall Street is what’s known as “Big Money” or “Smart Money”. People with millions and millions of dollars like Warren Buffet. Many times these people act on inside information so they aren’t really betting at all. It’s almost a sure win.
        Everybody else follows the mob mentality and acts on “tips” from brokers who just want to make money on the trade commission. These people (basically all of us) are the ones who lose everything they own. So absolutely, Wall Street should be an area one should “Travel Through at Your Peril”. No joke. A White Collar Crime Area.
        Basically there are areas of psychological risk,financial risk, and physical crime risk. And I’ll speculate all these areas, if mapped out for drivers and travelers, would bring in a hefty profit to the map-makers.

  2. Joe

    Interestingly, too, whites never consider that most whites live in the most segregated racial ghettos in the country. Language matters so much in most things, so that we do not even see the term “white ghettos” and that in itself says a lot about who controls the language, the dominant framing, and thus the country.


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