March 7, 2016
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(ANTIMEDIA) On Monday, a new, controversial app described as “Yelp for people” made its debut. The free app for Apple and Android, called Peeple, allows users to rank individuals based on their interactions with them. Though Peeple’s creators added privacy provisions following harsh criticism amid the product’s announcement last year, they still face scrutiny over the potential invasiveness inherent to the app.
“The Peeple app allows you to better choose who you hire, do business with, date, become your neighbours, roommates, landlords/tenants, and watch, teach, and care for your children,“ the creators say.
The app’s site claims it is “revolutionizing the way we’re seen in the world, through our relationships,” while the logo bears the tagline: “Character is destiny.”
Indeed, in an age of online product reviews and star ranking systems for everything from restaurants to fitness studios to doctors, the emergence of a system to rank individuals is not exactly surprising. But opposition to the app, which takes modern society’s fetish with reviews to the next level, is widespread.
One commenter wrote on the company’s Facebook page:
“When character becomes currency, humanity suffers. We are not metrics, and you cannot ethically justify ranking humans against normative social ideals. We are #PeopleNotPeeple,” CBS reported.
Many users are concerned that the inherently critical nature of the app will enable and encourage cyberbullying. As another commenter on the app’s public Facebook page asked:
“How will you feel when someone is killed over what they said about someone on your app? Because it will probably happen.”
Another commented, “Yeah, because we all know people won’t lie to discredit other human beings……Peeple, the app for bullies.“
Others on the page have worried fake accounts will be made, while others complained the admins are deleting negative comments. In spite of the Facebook comment threads, however, the Calgary-based company insists it has safeguards in place to respect privacy and, above all, to prevent mistreatment.
“We do not tolerate profanity, bullying … name calling, degrading comments, abuse, derogatory comments, sexual references, racism, legal references, hateful content, sexism, and other parameters,” the website’s FAQ explains.
Further, users writing reviews must use their full names, and those reviews must be approved by the person they are written about, features that appear to provide for accountability by forcing reviewers to stand by their assessments of others. Users who are reviewed have the choice to keep these assessments hidden.
With a paid subscription, called the “truth license,” however, the dirt becomes available. This means even reviews individuals have chosen to keep hidden can be viewed. Co-founder Julia Cordray explained the system:
“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. 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 in their profile.“
The truth license feature will debut in April.
Other changes to the app following public outcry last year include the removal of a star-based system in favor of a simple ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ ranking, as well as the ability for users to delete their accounts.
“I’m really grateful for that global viral feedback that we got. It was almost like conducting the world’s largest beta test without beta-testing,” Cordray said of the widespread criticism the app received.
“That’s a way to try to have it both ways,” said Tom Keenan, a professor at University of Calgary and expert on technological privacy. Speaking on the app’s changes, he said, “I guess there might be a few nuns who want to give each other references and be honest and frank and friendly, but I don’t think the general public wants to do that,”arguing the modifications turned the app from “from controversial to irrelevant.” The Calgary Herald noted the app “could in effect be positive-feedback only without the [truth license].”
Other apps have wrestled with similar dilemmas. Lulu, a once-popular app for females, allowed women to rank men they had previously dated or known. After outcry from men and media outlets over privacy violations and sexism, the app made those rankings voluntary; the men were granted the ability to opt-in, as well as to delete their profiles if they didn’t like what was said about them. The changes, however, removed the app’s bite, rendering it the same as many others.
As a one-star review on the app’s iTunes profile complains:
“This app is no longer relevant and has lost its edge. If I wanted a dating app I would go for something that started as a dating app not a rating app. Poor business decision as this was a one of a kind app and now it’s just one of a the very many dating apps available on the App Store.”
It seems that without the appeal and possibility of negativity — what some might call honesty — human ranking apps tend to lose their appeal.
Nevertheless, Cordray says the changes were made for two types of users: “Those who want to safely manage their online reputation, and those who want to make better decisions about the people around them.”
Caught between the original intent of the app — to provide transparency and accountability down to the individual level — and attempts to appease critics, the fate of Peeple rests squarely in the hands of the internet. In recent months, the internet has been polarized between crusades against bullying and insensitivity, as well as tireless campaigns defending free speech.
In spite of the controversy, Cordray remains optimistic about the new app. “I really feel like we honoured our users and gave them what they asked for,” she said.
The iTunes version of the app was released Monday, while the Android version is expected out soon.
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