Peeple – an app which asks users to rate their friends and acquaintances — is launched today. It has already been slammed as creepy. Does it have any redeeming factors?
Last year, before it was even released, Peeple was crowned ‘the internet’s most hated app’. Described as a ‘Yelp for people’, it would allow anyone over 21 to post one to five-star ratings of anyone else in their lives. There was no ‘opt out’. There was no way to delete negative posts. It was a ‘terrifying’ concept, judged The Washington Post.
During the global outrage that followed, founders Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough denied claims that the app would lead to cyberbullying and abuse. They insisted that they were launching a ‘positivity app for positive people’. After all, said Cordray, most people are ‘genuinely good’, and they want to ‘uplift’ each other.
But few agreed. The app was called everything from ‘a bad dream’ to ‘the end of civilisation as we know it’. The reaction was so strong that Peeple’s launch date was postponed while its creators reflected on the world’s ‘viral feedback’.
Now it is finally available to download in the USA and Canada, with a few tweaks. The five-star rating system is gone. Instead users can write ‘recommendations’ though only registered members will be visible on the site.
Users also get full control over what appears on their profile — unless someone has paid for ‘The Truth License’, a premium service which reveals all the reviews posted, whether users agreed to share them or not.
But many are still angry. This final feature ‘over-rides almost all of their safeguards,’ argued the law lecturer Paul Bernal, adding that he thought it was ‘unbelievably creepy’.
Then again, Peeple is not the first site to be accused of being creepy. The origins of Facebook lie in Mark Zuckerberg’s early FaceMash, a site which invited its users to compare the attractiveness of other students without their knowledge. Find My Friends allows users to track each other’s whereabouts. And in 2011 Yiannis Kakavas created an app that is literally named ‘Creepy’ — it uses data from social media to pinpoint a person’s location. Maybe in comparison, Peeple is not so bad?
Cordray and McCullough insist that their app will be good for the world. We are already used to assessing reviews of films and restaurants. What is wrong with checking that a babysitter or potential date is trustworthy? Like it or not, reputation has always been important; Peeple simply translates that fact to the 21st century.
Others remain sceptical. No matter how much Peeple’s founders want to believe that humanity is essentially good, the internet often proves otherwise — 73% of internet users have seen someone be harassed online, and 40% have experienced it personally. Why on earth would an app that invites people to review each other be any different?