Irrelevant Hacks

Irrelevant musings of a hack blogger

Peeple, the review site you never knew existed, but that you’re on because someone else signed you up for it

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So, another day, another App or Startup.

This time it’s Peeple, a service like Yelp, but for reviewing actual people! So, it’s like a site that manages a database of information of different people and their reputations. All comments are NOT anonymous, and if any negative comment violates the rules, it might be removed. All relatively nice and interesting, but there’s a catch. And it’s a big one.

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Or, you don’t even have to sign up for it to be on it. And no, the text message is to confirm that your profile has been added to the site, and NOT to ask your permission to BE added.

So basically, it’s a service to review people, in which you have no possibility to opt out, because anyone can add you if they have your cell phone number (common if you have it on your business card). From a Washington Post article a little saving grace:

“If you haven’t registered for the site, and thus can’t contest those negative ratings, your profile only shows positive reviews.”.

The problem with this, is as I said earlier, forced Opt-in. While forced Opt-In might be permissible for listing stores and companies online, they are not private entities, there may be liability problems regarding private individuals. Also, it seems that there is no possible way to delete one’s self from the actual service.

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And while this is a problem, let’s engage into some speculation on a monetization plan for such a service at the moment. Directed advertising inside the app or site is obvious, but there might be other methods to monetize this service…

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So that leaves open the door to something that was tried before hand, and ended spectacularly badly. Namely, Ashley Madison. One could pay for the removal of their account (even though the information was not completely deleted), but that account was created by the actual user. Here, the question would be, if you would pay to get off this service, what’s keeping other people from adding you back on it after your account is deleted?

It’s an astounding revenue source for such a company, since they can easily say that they actually deleted your profile (and actually do it), but they don’t have the capability to keep you off it (no data to blacklist your phone number from the service, since it’s deleted), if someone else adds you back on it. One could continue paying to be removed time and time again from such a service (though type of monetization does sound more like extortion). I agree this is wild speculation and more than a bit of biased (not openly trusting a new startup’s inentions) opinion, but money is money, and you can make a boatload of cash this way.

Though, the fact that you can’t be deleted might actually be extremely problematic for the service to expand outside the Untied States. The EU’s “Right to Be Forgotten” might be just damned silly, but for a service like Peeple, could leave it open to a large amount of liability problems. If you can’t remove a person from the service permanently (which it seems to be impossible if one has more than one cell phone number or changes it at any time), it would be quite possible for judges to request damages from the in the future.

The thing is, I believe that this service while created with good intentions, can seem to be a bit ethically challenged. No one likes being signed up to a service that they don’t want (that’s why spam email is so universally hated). Eliminating the possibility to opt out, eliminates a lot of good will and erodes trust with the general public. Additionally, a solution would be quite simple, all they’d have to do is have the cell phone owner NOT respond to the text message within an allotted amount of time, to delete an account created by a third party. That way, if the cell phone owner decides to sign up for the service, they can respond with a YES, or simply go online and create an account indicating their cell phone number to link the review/profile to their created identity. Also, this would alleviate any false positives of people creating fake or malicious profiles of other people.

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Regarding suggested user behavior, “If your are unsure of the comment you are making, it is best not to make it at all”, has never stopped anyone from saying stupid, degrading, or threatening online. People are idiots, most post before thinking and will try to ruin another’s reputation out of spite or simple anger over any number of trivial things. The lack of an opt-out mechanism does not help Peeple’s cause.

While Peeple is still in beta, I’d still like to see their privacy policy posted on their site without having to actually join the beta test (or give them my actual information). Just by publishing that, it would be a good first step towards transparency in their intentions. Their statements on sharing information only among users is relatively clear. It seems that you can share a review that you left for another person on other social media sites. If you don’t have a claimed profile, any reviews left to that profile cannot be shared. But I doubt that would stop anyone from reposting reviews on other sites via screen shots.

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Call it my paranoia regarding privacy, call it just unwillingness to socialize at times. But as the Washington Post article does state:

“The app was originally supposed to scrape names automatically from Facebook, but the site’s API wouldn’t allow it”

That statement alone simply doesn’t inspire much trust in me for Peeple. Because just by chance (and the slim privacy protections set up by Facebook), anyone with a Facebook profile could have already had a profile generated automatically on Peeple, against their will, and possibly, without their knowledge.

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