Sarah Morrison is an information professional based in Toronto, Ontario. Her posts explore the intersections of technology, knowledge, feminism, social justice, and fandom.

Why Peeple is an Absolutely Terrible Idea

Why Peeple is an Absolutely Terrible Idea

Peeple (the app, not the original product), is an absolutely terrible idea.

I’m not the first to talk about this, and it looks like the creators may have blessedly got the message (by looking to rename the app, though that means the original Twitter and Facebook posts are now deleted/locked), but there are a few points I want to emphasize as to why this is such a bad idea.

The Motivation of the Creators

At least one of the creators of the Peeple app, Julia Cordray, is a recruiter by trade. Not a developer, not a social scientist, not even a relationship counsellor. A recruiter. And the fact that she wants to create an app that essentially gathers and aggregates information about people (very potentially without their knowledge) isn’t a red flag for anyone?

The Privilege of the Creators

A lot of the press for the app has focused on the fact that they actually think it will pan out to be a “positivity” app. After I almost choked on my tea, a few possibilities came to mind:

a)      Seeing point one above, that’s a complete smokescreen for ulterior motives for creating the app – total spin.

b)      It’s performance art, a hoax, or a prank gone wrong.

c)       The creators are actually that privileged and completely don’t see it.

Unfortunately, I think it’s probably option c. Cordray, who’s getting more press than her co-founder, is a blonde, white woman from Calgary. It is completely believable that she’d actually think the app would pan out in the utopian way she envisions. It is, mind-bogglingly, completely plausible that she’d not think through all the massive potential for abuse and harassment (see below) or not think to check that no one else was using the name (see below). It’s depressing and disheartening that someone that out of touch with their own white and class privilege can get a terrible idea to the point along the production line that they have.

(That’s not to even mention the complete lack of recognition of how triggering this could be for people with anxiety disorders.)

The Hypocrisy of the Creators

Adding to the sheer ‘Are you serious right now?’ aspect of all this are some of the fabulous gaffes that the founders have committed online (especially considering they seem to be completely social media inept when left to their own devices). Unfortunately, most of the original posts/tweets are dead but this retweet sums it up perfectly: Cordray, who is making an app where you can give people unsolicited feedback, doesn’t want unsolicited feedback on her product Facebook page. As commenter alter_ego says in the Jezebel article:

God, it must really be awful for those creators to have a bunch of people on the internet making assumptions about their intentions and criticizing them publicly. Good thing it’s only on twitter though, imagine if there was a whole app, just for that!

Adding to the hilarity, after the internet stopped boggling and started calling them out, the creators posted an “Ode to Courage” on their site, wherein they pat themselves on the back for creating something that everyone else hates (but they know they’re right!). I’m not making this up.

Online Harassment and "Positive" Trolling

This can’t be stressed enough – this is just asking to be an absolute harassment and doxxing nightmare. All you need to start an account is the person’s cell phone number, and that you “know” the person either professionally, personally, or romantically. (According to the Washington Post article, the app originally was supposed to scrape names from Facebook but the API wouldn’t permit it, to the annoyance of one of the founders. I’ll let that sink in.) Stop to think about this for a second – it’s not opt-in and a profile can be started for you without your consent. That’s going to be mighty triggering for anyone, but especially people who’ve experienced being stalked.

Negative reviews go into a private inbox for 48 hours so the reviewee can dispute it, but if you haven’t registered for the site you won’t know there’s something there for you to review. Positive ratings go up immediately.

There are so many ways this can be used to completely destroy a person. Straight up negative reviews can go up if you don’t know to go and look. More insidiously, though, there’s nothing stopping someone from giving a five star rating and posting vile stuff in the text. More subtly is positive trolling, where a review seems to be positive but is still harmful – think some random person complimenting a married woman on the date they went on or how good she is in bed.

This is absolutely obvious to most people who are looking at this impending train wreck, but not to the creators…? This is a bully’s dream.

The Brand Ruination of the Original Peeple

This Wired article does a great job profiling the creator of the original Peeple product, Chris Chuter. The product, which is an internet-enabled peephole that lets you look at your phone to see who’s at your door, won an innovation competition in the UK.

And now? Everyone thinks it’s this bloody app. They’re getting attacked on Twitter, and this is a brand nightmare. When anyone thinks of Peeple, they think of a creepy “Yelp for People”, not their (really neat sounding) product.

As the article sums up, Peeple registered their trademark in the US with intent to use. The app registered around the same time, but in Canada (also here and here). (Interestingly, I found these trademarks in the US Trademark Search.) Peeple (the product) can take Peeple (the app) to US court to get them to stop using the name due to the use of the name damaging their brand, should the app attempt a US launch.

As Chuter is quoted, “These women are funded, I think…they should be able to search trademarks and figure that out.” Though the app has backed off from using the name, the damage to the product has been done – Peeple has entered pop culture as a creepy bullying app.

Basically? There’s so, so much wrong with this app, and it can’t die soon enough, hopefully with enough time for the original Peeple to salvage their brand.

SLA Toronto Courier: Social Media as a Tool for the Information Professional

SLA Toronto Courier: Social Media as a Tool for the Information Professional

On Ambition

On Ambition