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App Billed as “Yelp for Humans” Prompts Massive Public Backlash

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Kirsten Andersen - published on 10/08/15

No one likes a "Burn Book"

Wannabe tech entrepreneurs Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough haven’t even launched their first app yet, and they’ve already achieved international fame … for all the wrong reasons.  Dubbed the ultimate “Mean Girls” by their growing army of critics, the pair have gone into near-hiding this week after people all over the world reacted with outrage to the announcement of their soon-to-drop app, Peeple. 

Before its creators pulled down its webpage late last week, Peeple promised to do for individuals what Yelp has done for businesses: Either make them more popular or utterly ruin their reputations based on ratings and “user reviews” from others who interact with them.  According to interviews with Cordray, the product was inspired by a dilemma McCullough faced upon moving into a new neighborhood with her small children: With so many strangers around, how was she supposed to tell which ones she should talk to … and which ones she should avoid?

Sure, there are sex offender apps that can tell you if a nearby stranger might actually be dangerous, but what about all the other stuff? “Character is Destiny,” Peeple’s early advertising reminded us, and as envisioned by its creators, the app would give you all the juicy details — the good, the bad, and the ugly — about the character and personality of anyone you might meet, crowdsourced (at least theoretically) from people who actually know them.

We want to know: ‘did he steal from you? Did she steal from you? Were they abusive? Um … do they have anger issues? Do they lie all the time? Are they narcissistic?’ I mean, these are the things that are more valuable in knowing versus little egocentric things,” Cordray said in a webisode of the duo’s online reality show documenting the creation of the app.

“People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions,” she further explained, in an interview with theWashington Post. “Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?”

The app’s critics say the software is bound to be used by rivals and bullies to destroy the lives of their competitors and victims, and could lead to a tech-fueled dystopia straight out of today’s young adult literature. Did that girl just flirt with your crush? Quick, tell Peeple she gave someone herpes! Up for your dream job against a tough competitor? Tell Peeple your rival is an untrustworthy slacker who pads his expense reports and chokes under pressure.  Okay, now get a few of your friends to do it, too!  The more agreement there is on his newfound “loser” status, the better.

Of course, one can only imagine the ramifications of an app like this one for a person who manages to offend the P.C. police.  We’ve already seen Christian-owned businesses shut down after their views opposing same-sex marriage prompted coordinated Yelp attack campaigns by LGBT activists. What happens if you “shut down” a human being?

To address these concerns, the app creators claimed to have built in safeguards to prevent this sort of abuse. For one thing, users would have to be at least 21 to download the app, and provide a link to a valid Facebook profile more than six months old in order to prove their humanity. Additionally, anyone receiving less than a 3-star review would have 48 hours to try to “work it out” with the reviewer before the comments could go live on the app.

But critics cried foul on the app’s flimsy authentication protocols, which required users to supply only a person’s name and cell phone number as “proof” of knowing the target well enough to render judgment, as well as the inability to opt out of being listed on the app at all.  They also pointed out the unenforceable nature of its 21+ age restriction, warning that teens and tweens were likely to lie about their ages just as they do elsewhere on the internet and use the app as a powerful new weapon in their social arsenal, taking the “Slam Books” of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations to a new and terrifyingly public level.

Ironically, as angry feedback about their idea began piling up on social media last week, both Cordray and McCullough scrambled to remove negative comments, prompting critics to point out the hypocrisy in their actions.

“The fact that you’re deleting comments on this post is EXACTLY the problem we have with your app,” said one Facebook poster.  “You don’t like people coming online to publicly give you our opinions? Interesting.”

Eventually, they couldn’t keep up with the tidal wave of outrage.  As their app improbably brought humanity together for a single cause — to keep Peeple from ever seeing the light of day — Cordray and McCullough disappeared from social media and took down most of the content on the website for Peeple.  The only word we’ve heard from the pair since then has been through Cordray, in the form of one defiant  and two posts on business networking site LinkedIn: a rambling essay titled “Ode to Courage,” and a follow-up post in which she announces that Peeple, not even having been launched, is receiving a complete overhaul.  The app will now be about “positivity,” Cordray says, with no negative reviews allowed, and a totally voluntary, opt-in structure.

Peeple will not be a tool to tell other humans how horrible they are. Actually, it’s the exact opposite,” Cordray wrote.  “Peeple is a POSITIVE ONLY APP. We want to bring positivity and kindness to the world.”

Cordray said she now considers herself “an example for what can happen when negative comments can be made about you without your approval.”

“Since the interview with The Washington Post, I’ve received death threats and extremely insulting comments aimed at  me, my investors, and my family on almost every social media tool possible. I hope now if nothing else by watching me you can clearly see why the world needs more love and positivity,” she wrote, adding: “Here’s the catch. I can’t delete any of them. They are there forever for the world to see. That’s not the world I want to live in and neither should you.”

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