Peeple is supposed to be an app that rates people. With that concept, the app isn’t alone, seeing as pretty much every app we use in our daily lives has a social media component. However, Peeple differs from accepted and steadily evolving applications such as Twitter, Facebook or Tinder as well as BandsInTown in that it generated a huge controversy before launch.
Not only do many think rating people is immoral and mean spirited, but it’s one feature that leads people to be outraged: Even people without a Peeple profile should be subject to ratings.
Peeple’s concept is simple: It allows its users to rate other people. Julia Cordray, the entrepreneur behind Peeple, explains her vision as follows:
In April 2014, my best friend and co-founder picked up the phone and said, ‘You know what? I live in this town-home complex in Southern California, and I’ve got these neighbors, and I’ve got teachers teaching my children… but I don’t really have a way of looking them up, and I feel like I really should have the ability to find out who somebody is and find out their true character.’ And I said, ‘Wow, that’s a really big problem to solve.’ And I was lucky enough that she said, ‘Let’s solve it together!’ and here we are: we thought there should be an app for that.
Looking at the use case from a bit of a distance, you will most likely get to the conclusion that the idea isn’t all that spectacular. Other services such as RateMyProfessor.com are old and have been accepted as legitimate. However, RateMyProfessor rates academic qualities and not the character of a person. Peeple’s co-founder Nicole McCullough, however, sees her idea as revolutionary:
We are bold innovators and sending big waves into motion and we will not apologize for that because we love you enough to give you this gift.
The question now is: Is it really necessary that want to let ourselves be rated as people? In this question, there’s also the word that led to so much controversy: let. Unlike other services that have similar implications such as the dating app Tinder, nobody is safe from being rated on Peeple. It’s not even necessary to sign up to be rated. If you don’t have a profile, one will be created for you if someone needs it. This crosses a line.
When looking at it from a data protection angle, but mostly from a position of common human sense, the reason for Peeple’s existence can be criticized: An application that basically calls for ostracizing and denouncing third parties wouldn’t even deserve the massive negative publicity it’s getting these days.
Despite all this, Peeple does have its positives: It manages to convey the message that non-participation in social networks doesn’t automatically equal non-involvement. If you’ve ever had a longer hiatus from Facebook, then you’ll be surprised after logging in again. The recommendations for people you might know and the things you might like, they’re shockingly accurate. They’re aggregated from the combined address books, pictures and other data supplied by other, more active, accounts. If you’re not an active node in a social network, you’re not inexistent, you’re just passive.
It’s not very astounding that more and more people stop boycotting social networks and opt for a controlled, inactive use. This way, the projected image can be steered individually as opposed to letting algorithms and Big Data handle it. Or, as seen with Peeple, letting the critical neighbour project your image.
How far the need of this individual brand management goes remains a topic of debate. Just like Google users have been awarded the Right to be Forgotten after quite some legal tug of war, social media users should be given a Right of Invisibility.
Concerning Peeple, let’s just hope that the app won’t find too much popularity, not just because of the negative press it has received. It will then hopefully disappear without much fanfare. Still: If Peeple manages to establish itself despite expectations, I hope the two founders are prepared to get quite some one star ratings.
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