In The Media

Controversial Calgary-based app Peeple launches Monday

by Taylor Lambert (feat. Tom Keenan)

Calgary Herald
March 3, 2016

Curious about your kid’s soccer coach? Wondering what others think of that guy who asked you out?

There’s an app for that. Sort of.

The Calgary-conceived app Peeple, announced to a firestorm of controversy late last year, is finally launching Monday after retooling a number of features.

“I really feel like we honoured our users and gave them what they asked for,” said co-creator Julia Cordray.

Peeple will let users rate each other in three areas: personal, professional, and romantic. In a change from the original concept, reviews are only posted with the consent of the person being reviewed — that is, the service is opt-in and a user can hide their negative reviews.

But a planned future paid subscription Cordray called the “truth license” — not available for Monday’s launch — will let users see all reviews, even hidden ones.

“If a mom wants to look up a coach for her kids, she can see all the amazing things on that person’s profile, but maybe there’s some areas of improvement for that person,” explained Cordray.

“So when the mom upgrades to the truth license, she’ll be able to see all the recommendations on the back-end that the coach never published on their profile.”

In other words, assuming most people wouldn’t voluntarily make their negative reviews public, the app could in effect be positive-feedback only without the subscription, which Cordray said they hoped to offer by April.

“That’s a way to try to have it both ways,” said Tom Keenan, a University of Calgary professor and author of a book about technological privacy.

Keenan believes these changes move the app “from controversial to irrelevant.”

“I guess there might be a few nuns who want to give each other references and be honest and frank and friendly, but I don’t think the general public wants to do that,” he said.

The idea of Peeple seemed to have more detractors than supporters when first announced last September. Widespread criticism — especially over the ability to negatively rate people who did not use the app — landed Peeple in the media spotlight, from Dr. Phil to the Washington Post to Wired Magazine.

Online trolls escalated the opposition to bullying and threats against the two women.

“I’m really grateful for that global viral feedback that we got,” said Cordray. “It was almost like conducting the world’s largest beta test without beta-testing.”

Other changes made to the app as a result of the controversy include ditching the star rating system in favour of a simple tally of positive or negative reviews, and allowing users to delete their accounts.

Cordray said the changes were made to satisfy two types of potential users: “Those who want to safely manage their online reputation, and those who want to make better decisions about the people around them.”

The free app will be available for iOS Monday, with an Android version coming sometime later this year.

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