Controversial Peeple App Debuts

Reputation app deemed ‘Yelp for People’ caused firestorm when announced last year

By Aliah D. Wright Mar 8, 2016
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It’s back!

Peeple, the self-descriped "Yelp for People" app, caused massive outrage when it was initially announced in October 2015. It made its debut, albeit with changes, March 7.

Initially, Peeple was introduced as a way to “connect people with each other through honest reviews,” based on professional, personal and romantic connections, the app creators stated in a news release. “The world talked back. People believed Peeple threatened their privacy, was prone to cruel bullying, threats, and abuse.

“Then, something ironic happened. The developers of Peeple were threatened, their privacy was invaded, and they were castigated and shouted down on Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook,” according to the release. “They were overwhelmed by thousands of harassing e-mails, comments, and phone calls. All this before the Peeple app ever actually saw the light of day.”

Now the app is available for Apple users, and it will be made available for Android users later this year.

The creators implemented several changes to how the app functions, following the criticism they received after their announcement of the app’s planned functionality: 

  • No one can add you to the app. “You have to join us to be a part of our app, but people can leave you a recommendation if you’re not on the app,” Julia Cordray, app co-creator, told SHRM Online in an interview March 3. “If you join, the recommendation will be waiting in your inbox.”
  • You have full control over what goes live on your profile. “You can pick and choose what [recommendations] you want to publish,” she said.
  • You can deactivate your profile. “If you wanted to come back, everything will still be there so you won’t lose your data,” Cordray said. “All recommendations you made go dormant—and all the ones you received go dormant, too,” after you deactivate your account. 
  • The app will tally the total number of recommendations you have received. Previously, Peeple had announced users would get “star ratings.”

Users register on the app using Facebook and their smartphone number. They cannot use the app anonymously. A system of checks and balances is in place to verify that people are legitimate, says Cordray, who, along with the app’s co-creator Nicole McCullough, hails from Calgary, Canada. Those who aren’t verified are deleted.

Cordray said the changes to the app are “the best way that we could give everybody what they asked for and what they wanted.”

She argues that even if the app is populated solely with positive feedback, people will still be able to make better decisions about those they interact with because the reviews are not anonymous—unlike on Yelp or other review sites.

New Tool for Recruitment?

Cordray, who founded two recruiting companies in Canada, hopes recruiters will benefit from the app by using it as a reference check and users will add Peeple to their social media profiles. Users can also broadcast their recommendations from the app to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, text and e-mail.

According to research released in January from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 41 percent of job candidates put their social media profiles on their resumes. 

However, 76 percent of HR professionals interviewed in the SHRM survey were concerned about discovering information about job seekers’ protected characteristics such as race, gender and religious affiliation.

Cordray’s hope is that recruiters come to think of Peeple as “a replacement for the reference check” because on her app “there are more than just the standard three [professional references]. You can get a character reference on the personal side as well as the professional reference,” she explained.

Some think there is viability in what Peeple is trying to do.

“I bet most employers will start checking it before making a hiring decision no matter how much credibility they may give it,” Jonathan Berger, HR manager for Fractl, a Delray Beach, Fla.-based marketing company, told SHRM Online. “And if you’re about to go on one of the millions of blind online dates per year, I bet you’d want to check it, too.”

To Tell the Truth

When asked if users are giving people a true representation of themselves by deleting negative comments, Cordray said, “The way we address that concern is with the Truth License.”

For a fee, which hasn’t been set yet, users can upgrade to the Truth License, which “shows you everything that has been written about a person—whether it was published live on their profile or not. This allows you to make better decisions about the people around you by getting access to all the recommendations,” Cordray said. Users can refute what other people have said about them. Comments that violate the app’s terms and conditions are removed. 

She said commenters are accountable for what they write. Users can see other reviews they’ve written and what’s been written about the commenters, as well.

“It’s a safe honor system without public shaming—and we’re holding both parties accountable,” she said.

“I think the feedback we received—the viral global media storm—actually helped us give people what they asked for. Having a safe space where you can manage your online reputation—that just doesn’t exist in social media today. Your reputation can be destroyed overnight on social media—just Google my name and you can see what happens when you don’t have an app like Peeple.”

Concerns Linger

Not everyone is sold on the app. 

“At first glance, it seems you can only leave comments about registered members, so I don’t see why folks would even join and open themselves up to being flamed,” said Lars Schmidt, founder of Reston, Va.-based recruiting optimization firm Amplify Talent and NPR’s former senior director of talent acquisition and innovation.

The app will see “a brief spike in downloads from articles like this, but unless people tell their friends to download the app and rate them, I’d say it’s unlikely this service becomes mainstream,” added Eric Schwartzman of Social Media Training, an e-learning company formerly known as Comply Socially, based in Santa Monica, Calif. “And why would they? It’s easy enough to gauge someone’s reputation on social networks already. Why would I need a new service that just does that and nothing else?”

Rodney Evans, an organizational design consultant and executive coach in Durham, N.C., told SHRM Online, “We are the sum of our experience, thoughts, feelings, and we shape shift every moment as we respond to external stimuli. So how can a rater evaluate the sum of another person’s interior world and environment? Does the rater know that the teacher who lost his temper in class didn’t sleep last night because he is worried about his student loans? That the employee who quit abruptly was served divorce papers in the lobby?

“Just because a boss wasn’t good for me—that doesn’t mean they weren’t good. It definitely doesn’t mean they aren’t perfect for someone.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM and author of A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn ... and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites. Reach her on Twitter @1SHRMScribe.

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