John Oliver has a question for the founders of a proposed app that would let you rate anyone you know with or without that person’s consent: “Have you ever been on the Internet?”
On Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver examined Peeple, an app scheduled to launch in late November (we’ve covered all that in more depth, here). Its founders, Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, have referred to it as the “Yelp for People.” The idea: let’s all start assigning ratings to people we know in some capacity, as if other human beings are restaurants or drunken Amazon purchases. No, you can’t opt out.
“As you might expect, an app that allows people to rate you as a human being without your consent has created some concern,” Oliver said on Sunday. But one interesting thing so far about Peeple is that Cordray and McCullough seem to have little concern about how people react to their idea, remaining positive that Peeple will help to make the world a better place.
For example, here’s what the founders told The Intersect last week:
“As two empathetic, female entrepreneurs in the tech space, we want to spread love and positivity,” Cordray stressed. “We want to operate with thoughtfulness.”
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.
Oliver responds to the founders’ optimism by highlighting one of Peeple’s own promotional videos, where the founders ask a cab driver to a reaction to their idea. The driver emits a noise that Oliver describes as “the sound of [a] soul leaving [a] body,” while Cordray and McCullough are heartened by his initial “wow.”
The criticism here comes down to an essential disagreement about what the Internet would do with something like Peeple. Its founders seem to think Peeple’s users would approach the tool with their own optimism; the app’s critics see it as yet another way to enable, as Oliver says, the Internet’s tendency to help people “say vicious things about each other.”
In response to Peeple, “Last Week Tonight” ended up making their own Web site. It’s called Scream into the Void, and it lets you do just that. Type in your vicious or hurtful thought about another person, press the “scream” button, and it disappears into the void, where it can’t hurt anyone anymore.