Tech Buzz

App for Rating People Draws Withering Scorn

Canadian businesswoman Julia Cordray’s plan to launch Peeple, a Yelp-like app that would let people post reviews about other people, has drawn fierce criticism in the tech press and the blogosphere, including a petition against the app’s launch and a Twitter campaign to boycott it.

“It’s a legal and ethical minefield,” said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, a research director at 451 Research.

“Critiquing views, opinions, products and services is one thing; critiquing a person is quite another,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Peeple appears to have retreated into its shell in the wake of the firestorm — its website can’t be accessed. Its Twitter and Facebook pages are gone.

However, this Peeple YouTube video, featuring Cordray’s explanation of why she doesn’t have time for critics can be viewed — but not embedded.

Cordray did not respond to our request to provide further details.

Peeple’s Public Face

Before it disappeared, Peeple’s Facebook page said the mission of the app — which was to be developed for iOS — was to find the good in people.

As is the case for Yelp, users would be able to review subjects and allocate one to five stars.

The app, reportedly in beta, was scheduled for release in November, but it’s now unclear whether it will be released at all.

How Peeple Would Work

Peeple users would have to be at least 21 and sign up through an established Facebook account.

They would have to provide their cellphone number for identity confirmation.

Comments would be posted under reviewers’ real names and reportedly would be placed in one of three categories: personal, professional or romantic.

Positive reviews would be posted at once.

Reviews bearing two stars or less would be held for 48 hours and a copy sent to the subject’s in-box with an invitation to resolve the issues brought up. If no resolution should be reached, the reviews would go live and the subjects would be able to defend themselves publicly on the site.

Subjects would have to join Peeple to contest negative reviews, but if they chose not to, their profile would not display negative reviews.

Reviews would expire after a year.

Users would be able to report any write-ups they believed to be inaccurate or in violation of Peeple’s terms and conditions, but they would not be able to delete reviews.

“For public people, this could be a nightmare,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Further, it’s highly likely that reviews on the app would trigger intense reactions, and that “could make the problems we’ve seen on Yelp — such as lawsuits brought by subjects against reviewers — look trivial by comparison,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Fear and Loathing

Before it disappeared, comments on Cordray’s Twitter page were furious.

“Your app seems to be the worst idea ever!” wrote Marcus Troy.

“You are opening a can of worms that shouldn’t be opened,” posted Erin Jackson.

“Peephole or Peeple?” fumed “Smith88,” adding, “Days are numbered. There are more beautiful ideas to aid humanity.”

Jen Victrola wrote that she’d launched a petition against the Peeple app.

The Possible Failure of Good Intentions

Racism and sexism reportedly would be barred from Peeple, and doxing, shaming and bullying apparently would not be allowed.

However, it might not be easy to forestall bad behavior.

“As we’ve seen on Twitter, some of these things gain a life of their own and a scale that is incredibly hurtful and litigation-rich,” Enderle observed.

Harsh criticism for cyberbullying activities on Twitter led the company to overhaul its policies several times.

Reddit, perhaps, provides the best example of the futility of trying to rein in bad behavior — Ellen Pao had to step down as its CEO in July after her decision to ban a number of fat-shaming, racist and homophobic subreddits stirred outrage.

“I think [Peeple] is going to crash and burn pretty quickly,” Laura DiDio, a research director at Strategy Analytics, told TechNewsWorld. “This is a really bad idea.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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