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A few people in the comments disagree with my take on Microsoft’s new patent for GPS technology that will help pedestrians avoid dangerous neighborhoods. They make pretty convincing arguments that this isn’t such a bad idea.

Commenter Tamara Palmera writes:

I think it’s a great idea. Not necessarily playing on fears, but just helpful to those who aren’t familiar with their surroundings. When I first moved to DC and started walking my dog around the neighborhood, I had no idea that turning certain corners would land me on more or less unsavory blocks. I don’t live in “the hood,” but I saw a woman robbed on my street within the first few months of living here. With all the stories you hear of “she was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” it’s nice to have the option of avoiding those places that most likely pose a higher risk when all you want to do is go for a walk.

Privacy wonk (and occasional source) Julian Sanchez adds:

I’d think the effect of this would actually be to increase pedestrian traffic overall (if not through high crime areas). People might routinely use GPS to look up a location even in an area they know well, but walking directions are only really useful when you ARE in an unfamiliar city (or part of the city). As Shani observes, those are precisely the circumstances under which risk-averse visitors will default to taking a cab or public transit when they’re uncertain know how safe it would be to walk. If they’re assured that whatever walking route their GPS device gives them won’t take them through a high crime area, going on foot becomes more attractive.

Still, commenter Mike Licht points out a potential flaw in the technology: “If this Microsoft program relies on crime statistics alone it will steer folks away from two DC areas with lots of street crime, Georgetown and Chinatown. Fat chance.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery/Illustration by Shani Hilton