Unethical App Of The Month: Peeple

The co-founders of Peeple. I don't care which is which.

The co-founders of Peeple. I don’t care which is which.

(I’m officially adding this as an Ethics Alarms category. I don’t know why it too so long.)

The Washington Post reports that a greedy woman who never heard of the Golden Rule will be launching Peeple, “essentially Yelp for humans,” sometime in November:

“…you will be able to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose.”

Which is what, exactly? To pre-bias all future relationships by making sure they are colored by someone else’s judgment, emotions, or prejudices? Not only should no one want to be rated on such a service, no one should want to use it if they have a brain in their head. (No one should want to use Yelp, either.) Why should my standards, which are unique to me, be suppressed by the standards of other people I don’t know or respect? My ability to trust new acquaintances will be undermined by people I have no reason to trust, since a) I won’t know them and b) I won’t trust anyone so unethical as to smear someone like this.

As for positive reviews, what’s to stop someone from arranging to give positive feedback on a friend in exchange for a return rave? Nothing. The app will pave the way for sociopaths and con artists. Imagine what Bill Clinton’s reviews would look like.

Julia Cordray, one of the app’s founders, tells the Post, “People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?”

Because it isn’t valid research, you moron. It is hearsay and opinion, neither of which would be admissible in court, for excellent reasons: they are unreliable.

The Post:

“A bubbly, no-holds-barred trendy lady” with a marketing degree and two recruiting companies”—“Trendy lady”? Great, I hate her already—“Cordray sees no reason you wouldn’t want to ‘showcase your character’ online”—I already showcase my character online, thanks. It’s called Ethics Alarms, but the difference is that I really do know myself, and I trust the standards of the reviewer implicitly. They are very close to my own…

“Co-founder Nicole McCullough comes at the app from a different angle: As a mother of two in an era when people don’t always know their neighbors, she wanted something to help her decide whom to trust with her kids.”

There we go. With any luck, there will be a few good, whopping law suits for defamation that will either reduce the user base of this App From Hell to four pranksters and a few mean and bored seniors with grudges, or drive the Trendy Lady to another scheme to make the world a little more unpleasant.

“As two empathetic, female entrepreneurs in the tech space, we want to spread love and positivity,” Cordray says. “We want to operate with thoughtfulness.” Really? Here’s one way to accomplish that: dump your unethical app. People should warrant trust or not based on what they have done, not what others may think about what they have done from their own inherently biased perspectives. Life allows human beings to learn from mistakes, turn over a new leaf, evolve, begin anew with each fresh encounter, but Cordray and McCullough want them now to be dogged by the enmity of every rival, every jealous adversary, every vengeful lover and hyper-critical co-worker. Not only is the app a breach of the Golden Rule (but hey, venture capitalists have the company’s shares valued at $7.6 million, so its a profitable breach), anyone who puts up a negative review is breaching it.

“Peeple” is a terrible name: I picture an app for marshmallow Peeps. It should be called The Tarnished Rule App.

Post writer Caitlin Dewey has done a good job analyzing what is ethically putrid about Peeple, so let me endorse her wisdom. Reflecting on Cordray’s “thoughfulness,’ she writes…

“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? There’s no way such a rating could ever accurately reflect the person in question: Even putting issues of personality and subjectivity aside, all rating apps, from Yelp to Rate My Professor, have a demonstrated problem with self-selection. (The only people who leave reviews are the ones who love or hate the subject.) In fact, as repeat studies of Rate My Professor have shown, ratings typically reflect the biases of the reviewer more than they do the actual skills of the teacher: On RMP, professors whom students consider attractive are way more likely to be given high ratings, and men and women are evaluated on totally different traits….But at least student ratings have some logical and economic basis: You paid thousands of dollars to take that class, so you’re justified and qualified to evaluate the transaction. Peeple suggests a model in which everyone is justified in publicly evaluating everyone they encounter, regardless of their exact relationship.It’s inherently invasive, even when complimentary. And it’s objectifying and reductive in the manner of all online reviews. One does not have to stretch far to imagine the distress and anxiety that such a system would cause even a slightly self-conscious person; it’s not merely the anxiety of being harassed or maligned on the platform — but of being watched and judged, at all times, by an objectifying gaze to which you did not consent…”


This means, though, looking at the bright side, that the app will have one very useful purpose: you can instantly judge someone ethically wanting and untrustworthy by the fact that they offer a review at all. I think that will be fair.


Pointer: Fred

Facts and Graphic: Washington Post


22 thoughts on “Unethical App Of The Month: Peeple

  1. Isn’t that what Facebook is supposed to be for the unethical? All the ex wives and husbands with scores to settle will be using this damn thing. Thanks ladies (and I use this term loosely) for creating this thing! You have opened the door for making superficial judgements for the masses and made life a little less friendly for all.

  2. Yes, this is terrible. When is someone going to get rid of that mysterious lawyer rating system? How do you ever get to be AV rated, whatever that means? Talk about a secret society.

  3. Easy: Pass a law with a universal individual mandate to use Peeple.

    That would make about as much sense as using Peeple. Well, I guess I knew I didn’t have the imagination to imagine something worse than Twitter.

  4. I am so tempted to sign up for the beta and then add a review for Jack (5 stars, A+++++, would follow ethics advice again).

    And speaking of numbers, have you checked your Klout?

    (and now I shut up before earning a ban)

      • [assuming the question is about the Klout thing]
        I’d be surprised if you were interested in that at all. When I first heard of Peeple I thought it was just like Klout, except for real life, and no opt-in. Out of principle I don’t click on Klout links (mostly invites from my contacts); they fall in the same category as Breitbart, Vox and generic clickbait.

  5. How utterly disgusting. I thought the era of no-fault divorces for disposable marriages was a low water mark that would be hard to beat. Now we evaluate the worth of real live, feeling, and like Jack said EVOLVING human beings with a rating system on an app. Why waste a single minute of our precious time on all these meat-bags breathing our air?

  6. Ms. McCullough’s children may be early victims if she actually uses the app “to help her decide whom to trust with her kids”. Pedophiles will love this! All that they have to do is rate themselves as highly trustworthy and loving of children.

    • I would assume that peeple isn’t the first or only test potential “inner circle” types have to pass to watch her kids. It’s just to replace her apparent incapacity or unwillingness to get to know people and gradually build a mutual trust…

      She’s basically being lazy and stalkeish… Her children are already doomed.

  7. “You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose.”

    That’s just insane. What are they intending to do about innocent people who have their reputations trashed by the unscrupulous? They’ve basically announced that it’s a free-for-all. They do say this-

    “Positive ratings post immediately; negative ratings are queued in a private inbox for 48 hours in case of disputes. If you haven’t registered for the site, and thus can’t contest those negative ratings, your profile only shows positive reviews.”

    so I assume if you want to stay clear of being trashed on it, you just don’t sign up. But, given my experiences with Facebook, I am not expecting much in the way or support for people being attacked, despite what they are promising now. Despite its Terms of Service page saying bullying will not be tolerated, Facebook does nothing about bullying and abuse unless it gets scores of reports on a single page, and even then they still, in most cases, do nothing. Once these two start making money, I’m sure what actually goes on on the site will mean little to them.

    ” she wanted something to help her decide whom to trust with her kids.”

    How about actually meeting people and then using your head?

  8. “I’m officially adding this as an Ethics Alarms category.”

    I give that category four stars. Five, if you add in ALL so-called ‘social’ media; six for including yes/no questionnaires.

  9. So they’re going to create a central clearinghouse for outting every gay teen to his or her parents, and every trans person to anyone who might ever want to know, calling every man who ever made a pass a rapist, and every woman whoever say ‘no’ as a man hater? Oh, don’t forget health issues. Gotta know who has HIV right?

    We’re going to need space for two more people on the B ark. They can be stored right next to the people of Walmart creators.

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