Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Wait, you think this is somehow a good idea?

So, if you were on social media last night, I bet you got an earful about this prospective new Yelp-like rating system, Peeple.

It is a system for rating, get this, people. Coworkers, acquaintances, friends, neighbors, anybody whose cell phone you have or can look up. You give people one to five stars, just like you were rating a book on Goodreads.

Here is a Washington Post article by Caitlin Dewey about that:

Everyone you know will be able to rate you on the terrifying ‘Yelp for people’ — whether you want them to or not

It’s a good article — I like how Dewey starts off sounding almost neutral as she describes this proposed new app, and then says:

Unfortunately for the millions of people who could soon find themselves the unwilling subjects — make that objects — of Cordray’s app, her thoughts do not appear to have shed light on certain very critical issues, such as consent and bias and accuracy and the fundamental wrongness of assigning a number value to a person.

To borrow from the technologist and philosopher Jaron Lanier, Peeple is indicative of a sort of technology that values “the information content of the web over individuals;” it’s so obsessed with the perceived magic of crowd-sourced data that it fails to see the harms to ordinary people.

Where to even begin with those harms?

So. Founder of Peeple, Julia Cordray, and Co-founder Nicole McCullough, have no doubt been getting quiiiite the earful about this. One can’t help wondering how hard it would be to find out their cell phone numbers and jump right in using this rating system as soon as it becomes available. Maybe they will change their minds, maybe their capital will dry up at the last minute — they apparently have over $7 million in capital so far — maybe this app won’t actually appear. Which would, obviously, be the best outcome — obvious to everyone but Cordray and McCullough and their backers.

Where once you may have viewed a date or a teacher conference as a private encounter, Peeple transforms it into a radically public performance: Everything you do can be judged, publicized, recorded.

“That’s feedback for you!” Cordray enthuses. “You can really use it to your advantage.”

They say things like this and yet they have backers. Amazing. Astounding. Unbelievable, except there it is, apparently not a hoax. That this will go forward unchanged: I don’t believe that’s possible. That anyone needed a storm of negative reaction to see what a complete disaster the Peeple app would be as proposed . . . I have a hard time believing that, too.

Out of curiosity, has anybody ever proposed such a completely horrible app before in the (admittedly short) history of social media? Because I can’t even imagine.

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5 Comments Wait, you think this is somehow a good idea?

  1. Mike S.

    The basic idea underlies the entire economy of Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (which he makes available free in about every etext format known to humanity). Necessities (including spartan travel and net access) are free. Everything else comes via a gift economy tied to your online reputation score. (“Whuffie”)

    It’s portrayed as semi-utopian (though the main character winds up in a bad way with it) rather than resulting in the systematic disadvantaging of the less social, less attractive, etc. (Though I still think it’s a good book.)

  2. Karen K

    I can’t stand Yelp. The idea of Peeple literally makes me nauseous. Can’t help but wonder if Julia and Nicole were “popular” kids. No one who was as unpopular as I was/am would ever consider this a good idea.

  3. Rachel

    Mike, it’s hard to believe Cory Doctorow thought an online reputation score was actually a good idea. Ugh. Though maybe I’ll read the book just to see how he presents the idea.

    Karen, from the article, where the hopeful founder of Peeple is described with adjectives such as “bubbly,” I would bet money she was popular, cheerful, extroverted, and also apparently sufficiently self-centered enough not to realize what a terrible, terrible idea a social rating score is.

    Pete, no kidding, that would almost be worth it if there really was an app like this.

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