Peeple (get it? peep + people) is a new app in which human beings can rate other human beings like businesses are rated on Yelp. I can think of a dozen different ways, right off the top of my head, that this app could be used to harm people personally and professionally:
When the app does launch, probably in late November, you will be able to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can't opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it's there unless you violate the site's terms of service. And you can't delete bad or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose.Maybe because you are shy; maybe because you have social anxiety; maybe because you don't want an online presence at all; maybe because you are hiding from a stalker; maybe because you are an educator who doesn't want every student you flunk to have a public way of getting revenge; maybe because you work in any one of a number of fields in which people are routinely unhappy with you just because of the nature of the work; maybe because you are a marginalized person who does public advocacy that makes you a target for privileged bullies; maybe because you have a shitty ex or shitty family members or shitty coworkers; and certainly no one should be obliged to even provide a reason why they don't want to be publicly rated by anyone with an internet connection, and to explain to Julia Cordray that they are not the same person that she is.
Imagine every interaction you've ever had suddenly open to the scrutiny of the Internet public.
"People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions," said Julia Cordray, one of the app's founders [with co-founder Nicole McCullough]. "Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?"
...A bubbly, no-holds-barred "trendy lady" with a marketing degree and two recruiting companies, Cordray sees no reason you wouldn't want to "showcase your character" online.
Given the importance of those kinds of decisions, Peeple's "integrity features" are fairly rigorous — as Cordray will reassure you, in the most vehement terms, if you raise any concerns about shaming or bullying on the service. To review someone, you must be 21 and have an established Facebook account, and you must make reviews under your real name.Which isn't much of a threshold, considering that many people are required to make their cell phone numbers public for their jobs, and that there are garbage companies online who will provide private cell phone numbers for a small fee, or for free.
You must also affirm that you "know" the person in one of three categories: personal, professional or romantic. To add someone to the database who has not been reviewed before, you must have that person's cell phone number.
Positive ratings post immediately; negative ratings are queued in a private inbox for 48 hours in case of disputes. If you haven't registered for the site, and thus can't contest those negative ratings, your profile only shows positive reviews."If you don't want negative ratings, just don't sign up!" Of course, you have to sign up if you want to contest any reviews at all. Like, for example, if someone slips into a "positive" review personal information you don't want broadcast.
"As two empathetic, female entrepreneurs in the tech space, we want to spread love and positivity," Cordray stressed. "We want to operate with thoughtfulness."I am really just rage-exhausted with privileged tech developers who imagine that every app they develop will be appreciated by every other person for the same reasons they appreciate it, who imagine that everyone will use their apps only in the way they intend and want them to be used, who never spend a hot second investigating how their apps might have negative consequences for people who don't share their privileges.
Unfortunately for the millions of people who could soon find themselves the unwilling subjects — make that objects — of Cordray's app, her thoughts do not appear to have shed light on certain very critical issues, such as consent and bias and accuracy and the fundamental wrongness of assigning a number value to a person.
To borrow from the technologist and philosopher Jaron Lanier, Peeple is indicative of a sort of technology that values "the information content of the web over individuals;" it's so obsessed with the perceived magic of crowd-sourced data that it fails to see the harms to ordinary people.
...It's inherently invasive, even when complimentary. And it's objectifying and reductive in the manner of all online reviews. One does not have to stretch far to imagine the distress and anxiety that such a system would cause even a slightly self-conscious person; it's not merely the anxiety of being harassed or maligned on the platform — but of being watched and judged, at all times, by an objectifying gaze to which you did not consent.
If you're a person who works in tech development and you assert to be unaware of the way technology is used by dangerous, abusive people to harm other people (especially women), then you are either a liar or an unfathomably ignorant fool.
True to her site's radical philosophy, she has promised to take any and all criticism as feedback. If beta testers demand an opt-out feature, she'll delay the launch date and add that in.So, she's only going to listen to requests for an opt-out feature from people who opt-in to a beta test. Fuck that, fuck this app, and fuck its careless creators.