[Marxism] Web sites may widen rich-poor gap

Calvin Broadbent calvinbroadbent at hotmail.com
Wed Aug 17 03:44:43 MDT 2005


Info Web sites may widen rich-poor gap

LONDON (Reuters) - Web sites offering information on the social make-up of 
neighbourhoods could increase the divide between the richest and poorest 
places in Britain, a report said on Wednesday.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said internet-based neighbourhood information 
systems already popular in the United States could enable househunters to 
find their ideal spot to live but also lead to a more segregated society.

UK sites such www.upmystreet.com can help to guide buyers to locations with 
the best schools and lowest crime rates.

The Foundation said similar sites in the United States, such as 
wwww.homestore.com or www.bestplaces.net already enable people to search for 
neighbourhoods that matched their prioritised criteria using extensive data 
complied by market research companies.

"The technology available can not only sort people according to basic data 
such as their incomes, but also according to individual tastes, consumer 
preferences, lifestyle habits and so on," said Professor Roger Burrows, who 
led the research team from the Universities of York and Durham.

"Until recently these segmentation processes have been largely invisible to 
the public, but with the emergence of IBNIS it is entirely possible that 
people will start using them to sort themselves out into neighbourhoods 
where their neighbours are less diverse and more like themselves," he said.

The UK does not yet offer neighbourhood searches ranked by characteristics, 
but a number of commercial sites offer information collected by postcode, 
while the Office of National Statistics gives detailed information on the 
demographics, deprivation and employment levels of neighbourhoods.

Several light-hearted Web sites claim to capture the social characteristics 
of different places, usually in negative terms.

The Foundation said it was only a matter of time before the powerful 
neighbourhood search sites available in the United States started to 
reinforce the divide between the more and less prosperous locations in the 
UK.

"While no one would want to prevent public access to neighbourhood 
information, we should recognise the potential implications for 
disadvantaged neighbourhoods and the people who live in them," said Burrows.

The charity said that, given the benefits of mixed income communities in 
promoting social cohesion, it was important that greater public access to 
the social sorting technology used by market research did not lead to ever 
greater segregation between communities.

Burrows said that the Web sites should specify their sources and make it 
clear how their information was compiled, while local people should also be 
given the opportunity to challenge the way their neighbourhood was 
portrayed.

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