The Digital Divide, Digital Redlining & Pokémon Go: A Problem in Perpetuation

This image is credited to: Flickr

In the battle for media justice, companies targeting and prioritizing wealthier communities with technological advancements are simply perpetuating the longstanding issue of digital redlining.

Adopting its name from when banks would draw “red lines” around communities they would not serve, “digital redlining” is the current term to describe when technology companies fail to provide, overcharge, or neglect advancing services, such as broadband infrastructure, for certain areas. These areas overwhelmingly tend to, both historically and now, consist of those who are less socio-economically well off.

As a result, these areas are plunged deeper and deeper into the digital divide, as the more privileged areas continue to plummet ahead into our electronic age.

This map displays the historical practice of “redlining” areas that were denied or charged more for services from banks. Image taken from: http://www.missedinhistory.com/blogs/missed-in-history-redlining-part-1.htm

Today, digital redlining is more prevalent than ever. AFRO correspondent Zenitha Prince Senior notes how recently Google, a technological powerhouse of our day & age, has been accused of redlining during their release of of their fiber-optic data network that operates 100 times faster. In the trial of Google Fiber in Kansas City, however, the service was divided based on “fiberhoods” that met specific quotas that ultimately resulted in a divide between those who could and could not afford the pricey charge for the service.

Yes, Google definitely deserves a pat on the back for their efforts to increase access to fiber in lower income neighborhoods via work with community groups. But even though Google claims its release of Google Fiber was meant to lessen the digital divide, it is easily to be skeptical of the company’s intentions simply because of the historical precedent all major technological companies have set: target more affluent customers, generate more profit, catalyze the digital divide.

Especially relevant culturally today, an article from USA Today discusses how even the popular app Pokémon Go, which is meant to unite players as they seek out other communities on the hunt for Pokemon, may actually be a culprit of digital redlining. The article describes how Urban Institute found an average of 55 Pokéstops in neighborhoods that were predominantly Caucasian, compared to an average of 19 Pokéstops in areas that were predominantly African American.

This image is a Twitter reaction to the cases of digital redlining in certain neighborhoods on Pokémon Go. This image is from Twitter, and the Tweet can be accessed via clicking on the image.

Unfortunately, all of these instances of digital redlining come to the same conclusion — that the discriminatory nature of our advancing technological world is no new story.

As a firm believer that our world is becoming one that completely relies on digital access, it is essential that proper access to the Internet be wholly understood as a human right. The Internet is the basis for the functioning of our country and so many others, and those countries, neighborhoods, and people who have limited access are being drowned by their lack of access. In time, it will be almost impossible to survive without access to the Internet, and the digital redlining that is perpetuated by companies is a direct hindrance to this modern, basic human right.