Rate A Stranger: Is This Scary New App The Future?

We rate taxi drivers and restaurants on a weekly basis, so why not actual human beings? It seems Black Mirror may be closer than you think...

Picture this: your every interaction with anyone you meet – from co-worker to coffee vendor – is subject to a ratings system from one to five, and if you fail to reach a specific figure, you’re automatically denied access to all sorts of things like nicer places to live, better rental cars and even entrance to bars, restaurants and resorts. It’s a self-censoring world where we’re at the mercy of everyone else’s whims, no one dares to be honest and people are literally living for the like. Relax: that was the premise of a recent season three Black Mirror episode, Nosedive, so phew, not real life, thankfully.

Except, hold up for just a second. If the makers of the Peeple app – billed as Yelp for people – have their way, we might be ushering in a world just like Black Mirror predicted, and we might be doing it lickety split, too.

Peeple announced its launch back in 2015 to a wave of criticism. Its creators, Canadians Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, announced the imminent app, sating that it would be a way to rate people in three areas of their lives: personal, professional and romantic. Okay, sure, there are plenty of ratings apps out there, like Yelp and TripAdvisor. But the difference with Peeple is that it is all about divulging what you think of anyone you know well, have just met, or are dragging for the LOLs. The potential for abuse is colossal.

“The Peeple app allows us to better choose who we hire, do business with, date, become our neighbours, roommates, landlords/tenants, and teach our children,” the company said at the time, positioning their service as a ‘positivity app for positive people.’

Except, many saw it as something to simply further enable the culture of digital defamation, trolling and online bullying we’re currently struggling with instead, and reacted accordingly. Chrissy Teigen tweeted, “I fucking hate this app and the boardroom table it was created around,” and when Peeple finally landed in March 2016, it had tweaked some of its features because of overwhelming negative feedback.

You can still rate users, but it has removed its one to five star rating in favour of an overall score based on the number of recommendations you get, and while you can ensure that only positive feedback appears on your profile, um, you have to read and approve everything first, so that means potentially exposing yourself to things you don’t necessarily want to see, in order to block them.

It gets worse: in the near future, Peeple intends to roll out what it’s calling a Truth License. For around €1 a day, you’ll have access to everything written about a user – negative and positive – whether they want you to or not. It’s so people can make better decisions, the company says, but it seems rather more sinister than that. Plus, even if you decide to opt out altogether, users can still review you, and then invite you to join so you can see what’s been said.

While Black Mirror‘s creator and writer Charlie Brooker says he was actually inspired by the ratings aspect of services like Uber, the parallel Peeple has to Nosedive is striking. In the film, actress Bryce Dallas-Howard stars as Lacie, a woman, “who lives her life trying to please everyone so that they will give her a good rating,” Charlie Brooker says. “It’s a kind of saccharine nightmare world that she lives in. Everyone is a little bit heightened and false, because everyone’s terrified of being marked down,” he adds.

If there’s one big flaw in Peeple’s premise – apart from the fact they want to offer smartphone slandering with a few easy swipes – it’s the issue that Nosedive tackles. Life isn’t overwhelmingly positive, nor should we want it to be. Constantly seeking positive affirmations and feedback and only wanting to hear good things isn’t a healthy way to live. It’s a fragile bubble upon which to build a reality, as Black Mirror explores.

“I’m a total dweeb and I love technology. But I’m an incessant worrier,” Charlie Brooker says, adding, “that’s why the show comes out as a sort of worried fever-dream nightmare about technology. But often, the nucleus of each story is an idea that has amused me on some level.”

Eventually – spoiler alert – Lacie comes to understand that living for the like isn’t actually living at all. With Peeple currently only available to over-17s for download in North America at the moment, and feedback on the App Store ranging from, “if this was actually used by people, hell would have come in the form of this app,” to, “pure trash,” we can be hopeful that we’ll reject the idea of this app, and continue to value people – and not peeple.

This article first appeared in STELLAR’s January/February issue. Our March issue is on shelves now!

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