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Peeple: Harassment is Destiny?

The controversial “Yelp for People” app, Peeple, has launched today for iOS users (their site touts a nauseatingly sanguine “Character is Destiny” tagline). For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, here is the app in the creator’s words:

“Peeple is a positivity app for positive people that allows you to leave or receive recommendations in the following 3 Categories: Professional, Personal, and Dating.”

OK, that seems harmless at first glance. It’s like that Community episode about the rating app “MeowMeowBeenz.” That went over really well, right? Here are a few potentially problematic situations Ella Dawson discussed when the app was first announced:

“There are a bunch of possible alarming scenarios in which this technology can be abused. What if you’re not publicly “out” as anything other than straight, and your ex writes a positive review outing your sexual or gender identity to your co-workers? What if you’ve changed your name to avoid an ex who still has your number, and they use the app to find your new identity and stalk you? What if you expose the harassment of one of your superiors at work and they use this app to get revenge by sullying your reputation?”

The creators claim they’ve taken such feedback under consideration, in an interview with Entrepeneur.com:

“The first change is that it’s 100 percent opt-in. You have to actually sign up to our platform to be on it and no one can actually add you to the platform. You also have full control over what goes live on your profile.

[…]

You can now also deactivate your profile. Deactivating will remove any activity that you’ve ever done, as well as any activity that’s ever been written about you.”

That doesn’t seem so bad. The app is completely opt-in, and you have complete control over what gets posted on your profile. So people who really want to use this, can – and if you don’t, simply don’t opt in! If someone sends you negative or inaccurate feedback, just hide it from your profile.

Nope.

Let’s talk first about Peeple’s “opt-in only” policy. This part is accurate, in so much as you won’t have a profile unless you sign up. However, anyone who has your phone number can write a review about you and then use the app send you a request to sign up:

“If the person you are searching for is not in the app you can still write a recommendation for them. Afterwards you will get the option to invite them to join Peeple. Their recommendations never go live without their permission.”

Your stalker whose phone number you blocked? They can send you a text now. Abusive ex? Can spam you with notifications now. From what I can see, there’s no way to opt out of this. You may be able to block Peeple’s text messaging number, but if they use more than one, this doesn’t do much good. (UPDATE: The text messages are sent using the reviewer’s phone number, meaning if you have their number blocked, you won’t get the text or see the review)

Maybe you don’t have to worry about that – lucky you! After all, you can hide any feedback you want from your profile. Not so fast. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, co-founder Julia Cordray describes an upcoming paid feature (the horrifically titled “truth license”) that would allow paid subscribers to see any review they want:

But a planned future paid subscription Cordray called the “truth license” — not available for Monday’s launch — will let users see all reviews, even hidden ones.

“If a mom wants to look up a coach for her kids, she can see all the amazing things on that person’s profile, but maybe there’s some areas of improvement for that person,” explained Cordray.

“So when the mom upgrades to the truth license, she’ll be able to see all the recommendations on the back-end that the coach never published on their profile.”

Funny that they wouldn’t mention this splendid upcoming feature on their website’s FAQs:

“Peeple is a free-to-download app and does not currently offer in-app purchases.”

Overall, Peeple has listened & made some small steps toward making their app harder to use as a tool of harassment. But unfortunately, it isn’t nearly enough. Even if you find the app’s uses palatable right now (I don’t), the talk of “truth licenses” gives users no confidence that Peeple won’t make future updates that drastically change how their community operates.

Right now, your best option is to not opt-in at all. I would also go one step further, and say that you shouldn’t even download the app out of morbid curiosity. Opting in or downloading the app gives the creators undeserved acceptance – especially in the eyes of their investors. The creators aren’t really listening, and I don’t expect that to change. After all, few people listen when there’s a profit to be made – even when the profit is happening on the backs of the marginalized.

Alex Rudewell

Alex Rudewell

Alex Rudewell is an intersectional Buddhist feminist. Her myriad talents include clogging your social media with pictures of her chihuahua, and occasionally her begrudging cat. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you can follow @alexrudewell on Twitter.

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2 Comments

  1. March 7, 2016 at 6:32 pm —

    Oh, look, an app that by definition cannot be anonymous. (I mean, yeah, the same is true of LinkedIn and Yelp, but still…) And of course, it’s easy to find a personal army by just going to 8chan. Far more people than the intersection of 1) people who know me and 2) people who care about some popularity contest app.

    This cannot end well.

  2. March 7, 2016 at 9:10 pm —

    Even if there’s no potential for harassment, I still hate the idea of it. It’s an app where boring people who don’t take risks and are generally nice could get appreciated.

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