Peeple can't be trusted

I had heard of Peeple back in the fall.  It's an app that allows its users to rate others as if they were ice-cream stands or movies.  Like Yelp.  For humans.  If you decide to use Peeple, you identify who you want to rate, choose an arena of life (professional, personal, or romantic) on which to rate them, and then write a review.  If the review is negative, then the target can elect not to have it published -- maybe.  See below.

When this was announced, the uproar was pretty quick to form, and rather loud.   The founders' statements seemed so bizarrely tone-deaf and oblivious, we started to think it might all just be a hoax.  One of them even posted a query on Facebook, wanting to know how to remove negative comments someone had made about their page.

But unfortunately for humanity, Peeple is not a hoax.  I learned from this Sophos article that the app has actually shipped.

Now, if you've ever been harassed by some troll on Facebook, you know how much like gum on the bottom of your shoe that can be.  Well, now here comes an app dedicated to distilling all that negativity and packaging it in a single little hot coal of hate.  As Skepchick pointed out, the possibilities for Peeple users to inflict misery on others will be endless.  The owners claim they have put in all kinds of safeguards against this, but how long do you think it would take, say, some GamerGate neckbeards to bust all those chains?

Not to mention, the safeguards start melting by design as soon as you start sending Peeple money.  Some excerpts from their Buzzfeed interview:

What is “Truth License”?

It doesn’t exist right now in the current app, but basically the Truth License is a paid upgrade in the app to see all the recommendations that were not published on people’s profile.

Would that include ones people had flagged for being inaccurate, right?

No, whenever there’s any sort of reporting or blocking going on, we’re paying close attention to those recommendations. We are leaving it up to the user to police what’s going on and bring things to our attention. But if there’s a recommendation that breaks our terms and conditions or is inappropriate, we have the right to remove those recommendations and delete them forever. We also have the right to remove users from our app.

To be clear, when the Truth License does come out, you’ll actually have the ability to rebut anything that anybody has said about you. But more importantly, you’ll be able to see all the recommendations that someone has written about others to really get a good read on what that person’s character is like, too. So it’s not just about what you receive as a recommendation, it’s also about how others treat each other.

If you’re going to leave a negative recommendation for a lot of people, and I can see all those recommendations that were never published, it looks like you’re a pretty negative Nelly and I can’t believe a word you say.

[In a follow up call, Cordray clarified that Truth License would reveal hidden negative recommendations that didn’t qualify as harassment or violations.]


Oh, wait: let's not leave stalkers out of the party:

There’s a “nearby” feature that shows the profiles of people near you. Is this something that you have to both have to be actively using at the same time, or if you’re at a bar and want to see who’s around it just automatically pulls up who’s around?

It’s the second part. So if you’re at a bar, and you and I both have the app, you’ll be able to see that I have the app and that I’m nearby, and you can see within a 10 mile radius and you can click on my profile to learn more about me and make your decision from there on how to approach me.

Does that seem like it might have a privacy problem? If you’re on the app because you want people to know about your skills as a teacher, and then you go to a bar and some random guy now knows your name?

Have you heard about Badoo? Badoo is famous for this exact feature. It allows people to connect when they see someone nearby.

But Badoo is a dating app.

They are a dating app, but remember we have a dating section in our app that allows you to be recommended romantically. So this is important to find out about people if you’re interested in this romantically. And if you’re NOT single, you can actually de-activate the dating section of our app by just going into your settings and toggling your “single” settings.

TechCrunch sums it up very succinctly: "Peeple’s plan is to profit by selling access to everyone’s negative reviews."  Because why would anyone pay for a column of "What a great guy Harry is!" writing?  And by the way, this kind of review is not going to hurt them a bit.

Peeple's claimed motto is, "Character is destiny."  For the founders, I can only hope that's really, really true.

This article was updated on May 9, 2023

David F