Nextdoor.com launched in 2011 as a private social network “for you, your neighbors, and your community.” Its “crime and safety” section allows residents to report “suspicious activity,” but East Bay Express reported that this mostly affects black or Latino residents living in gentrified neighborhoods. Indeed, the newspaper found that users will report a black person even if they only have a few details about them, such as “black” or “wearing a hoodie.”
Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia recently acknowledged his app’s racial-profiling problem, and is working with Oakland-based community group Neighbors for Racial Justice to improve it. For starters, Tolia promised to add a buttonthat lets users flag posts for racial profiling.
A similar app called GroupMe, based in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., yields the same results. GroupMe was started by Georgetown businesses and the D.C. police to help stop shoplifting, a growing problem for local stores. However, the Washington Post reported that of the of the 3,000-plus messages retail shops sent via GroupMe since January of this year, nearly 70 percent of the people reported were black. “The employees often allege shoplifting. But other times, retailers don’t accuse these shoppers of anything beyond seeming suspicious,” according to the Post.
The controversy surrounding these apps followed outrage over SketchFactor, a now-defunct app launched by two white developers to rate neighborhoods based on their “sketchiness,” which some consider to be code for lower-income black communities.