Microsoft launches project to map Rio's slums

Digital inclusion initiative aims at offering "the benefits of a platform for innovation and economic mobility"
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

Microsoft has announced that it is working on a project focused on mapping millions of homes located in Rio de Janeiro's favelas (slums).

According to Stefan Weitz, senior director at Microsoft's search engine Bing, the company's Brazilian office is working on the initiative, which will "bring computational power and mapping infrastructure" to millions of favela dwellers.

Weitz points out that a minimal percentage of these major urban centers populated by several million people has been mapped at all and that represents a "major opportunity to help."

"While these people may not have formal addresses they are not sitting on the sidelines of technology," Weitz says in a blog post, adding that smartphone penetration in Brazil is estimated to be up 34 percent year over year.

"[A Microsoft team in Brazil] is seeking to build the necessary infrastructure to enable the many parties necessary for the communities to fully participate in the digital town square in ways that many of us in the developed online world take for granted," the Microsoft executive adds.

To put the mapping project into context, Rio is the Brazilian city with the largest number of people living in favelas - according to official statistics, about 22 percent of its total population, or 22,160 people out of each 100,000 inhabitants, are based in slums.

Hiding the "f-word"

Google sparked controversy by removing the word "favela" from Rio maps following concerted lobbying from the city government, which had been trying to get the search giant to remove the f-word since 2009. 

The main motivation from politicians was to reduce the prominence given to the hundreds of favela communities spread over the city's hillsides and poorer areas of the city. The word was finally erased in April 2013. 

At the time, human rights campaigners argued that the removal of the word was a maneuvre from those in power to hide poverty - and the poor - as much in virtual environments as in reality.

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