James Vincent, The Verge, May 19, 2016
A tech company that offers users “a private social network for your neighborhood” has changed how it handles reports of criminal activity in order to avoid racial profiling. Nextdoor.com advertises itself as a place for neighbors to swap information about local news (“whether it’s finding a last-minute babysitter [or] hearing about a rash of car break-ins”), but complaints of racially charged posts have forced the company to rethink aspects of its site.
As of last month, Nextdoor is testing a system in which users reporting suspicious activities are asked to describe suspects’ clothing “from head to toe,” rather than relying on racial descriptions. “What details can I add that will help distinguish this person from other similar people?” asks the site’s new crime reporting form. Users will also be shown a “mandatory warning screen before posting in crime and safety” and can flag posts they think are guilty of racial profiling.
Nextdoor itself says it’s committed to ending racial profiling on its platform, but admits that this is an ongoing process. The recent changes to the site are being tested “across the Bay Area and Baltimore,” before being released to the company’s 98,000 neighborhoods later this year.