A fresh wave of app-rage crested and washed o’er the Internet recently in the form of Peeple, an as-yet unreleased app whose raison d’etre was quickly boiled down to “Yelp, but for humans.”
Taking a cue from the well-known hub of customer reviews of hotels, restaurants, and other businesses, Peeple seeks to facilitate the public review of other people across three common categories of engagement: personal, professional, and dating.
All that’s required to initiate a profile page for someone is his or her phone number (a presumed level of intimacy meant to safeguard against reviews from total strangers or bots), and from there you can leave comments and assign star ratings — which all seems creepy enough. But the kicker? There’s no opting out, at least the way the app was initially presented. As a person out there wandering the world with all your various flaws, you are, ultimately, up for review. Consent is but a cute concern of the past. (Unless, as a Facebook post suggests, they consider allowing users to “opt in.”)
If you’re familiar with the tenor (and intention) of the typical Yelp review, you can imagine the early reception this idea is getting:
“I do not believe human interaction and relationships should be turned into a commodity for public review and access,” reads one post to the Peeple Facebook page (42 likes). “Rethink this and burn it to the ground,” reads another (45 likes). “You are human filth” (274 likes).
Those likes reveal two things: One, there’s no shortage of places or opportunities online to register your positive or negative views of people. It’s called social media, and it’s been kind of a big thing for the last decade or so. And two, when it comes to online critique, destructive almost always trumps constructive. (See: Any comments section. See: Any political thread on Facebook. See: Twitter’s teeming trollscape.)
An FAQ posted to the Peeple website to quell the early fury stipulates that any negative reviews (that is, two or fewer stars — still can’t believe this is real) will be submitted to the reviewee in a text, at which point a 48-hour window will open for the two parties to “turn a negative into a positive” (whatever that might mean) before the comment is posted.
You can only get a comment removed “if it violates our terms and conditions once you report it.” Barring that, you can “publicly defend yourself by commenting on the negative review,” both of which sound like fantastic ways to spend your weekend.
Peeple’s terms explicitly prohibit “profanity, bullying, health references, disability references, confidential information, mentioning other people in a rating that you are not currently writing a rating for, name calling, degrading comments, abuse, derogatory comments, sexual references, mention of confidential information, racism, legal references, hateful content, sexism, and other parameters in our terms and conditions.” Which leaves, what? “Al is great!” or “Al could stand to work on his greatness.”
Despite this towering preemptive list of no-no’s, Peeple insists it is a “positivity app for positive people.” To enforce this, a “positivity rating” will attempt to keep chronic trolls in check by numerically representing the ratio of positive and negative reviews one leaves. But the subjective criteria of the specified verboten speech will require a small nation of dedicated moderators to address any comments reported as “derogatory” in one way or another.
(A sneak preview of these moderation skills have been ironically showcased on the Peeple Facebook page, where a number of negative comments left about the app were allegedly — wait for it — deleted. Seems fair.)
“We are bold innovators and sending big waves into motion,” reads a steely “CEO Update” posted to the app’s website, “and we will not apologize for that because we love you enough to give you this gift.”
Extending the benefit of the doubt to Peeple’s creators might allow us to accept their stated intentions behind its genesis: allowing users “to better choose who we hire, do business with, date, become our neighbours, roommates, landlords/tenants, and teach our children.”
But these rosy predictions of what Peeple will be used for blithely ignore what similar services have shown us in the past, from the curved grading that favors attractive teachers on RateMyProfessor.com to the ostensibly protective but deeply shallow dude-rankings of Lulu and the scourge of anonymous abuses that spread across the now-defunct Secret (which also relied on phone numbers as a binding agent for its network).
Taking a cue from a hub of customer reviews, Peeple seeks to facilitate the public review of other people across three common categories of engage-ment: personal, professional, dating.
In an interview with Motherboard that emerged shortly after the upsurge of outrage, CEO and cofounder Julia Cordray compared Peeple’s “gift” of disrupting of the reputation management zone (as well as the lives of potentially thousands of unwittingly reviewable people) to . . . well, read for yourself:
“When the people found out that the earth was round instead of flat and that we revolved around the sun instead of the sun revolving around us naturally people were upset and confused and they pushed back with all that they had.”
Ah, those flat-earther jerks. So upset and confused. Just imagine the ratings we could give them now.Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.