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The Cautionary Tale of “Peeple”

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Posted On 10.30.15 by in Blog

Cyberbullying is a very real thing. The Maryland state law on Cyberharassment is located in Section B1 in Chapter 369 of House Bill 396, which states:

A person may not maliciously engage in a course of conduct, through the use of electronic communication, that alarms or seriously annoys another: [(1)] (I) with the intent to harass, alarm, or annoy the other; [(2)] (II) after receiving a reasonable warning or request to stop by or on behalf of the other; and [(3)] (III) without a legal purpose.http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2013RS/Chapters_noln/CH_369_hb0396t.pdf

Recently, the Internet erupted into a furor when two Canadian entrepreneurs, Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, tried to create a people-rating app called “Peeple” which was due to launch in November of 2015. Originally, the app’s concept stated that anyone could log on to the app and give someone they knew a one-to-five-star rating, reviewing them like they would a restaurant, then leave comments as to why they were rating that person they way they were. They called it “Yelp, but for people.”

As stated in Peeple’s original product pitch, all it would take is someone who has your mobile phone number to start a profile about you on the Peeple app. The moment someone created a profile about you, the system would send you a text message informing you, and then give you a mere 48-hour window in which to respond to the comments/personal criticism before it was published for the world to see.

What made matters worse is that Peeple’s creators stressed that once a profile was created about you, there would be no way to have it removed unless you logged onto the app and proceeded to flagrantly violate the terms of service. There was no way any of us could “opt-out” of being included or to remove negative reviews if you received one. If someone rated you, positive or negative, it was there to stay, making it unavoidable to be included in the social media bloodbath that Peeple’s critics were certain would ensue at the moment of product launch.

Almost immediately, users on Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels began to deconstruct the app’s concept, essentially calling it a gateway to cyber bullying and a way to easily engage in libel and defamation. The Washington Post called the app “terrifying.” Fortune.com called it “truly awful,” and even eonline.com called it “a terrible idea.” Dr. Phil looked at Cordray during a televised interview and asked her if she was “really that naïve” when she stated that the idea of users engaging in cyber bullying wasn’t a hot topic with investors; that they received “no significant push-back” from any of the staff on the topic of cyberbullying during the concept creation process.

Upon learning the details behind the Peeple app, the general public began saber-rattling, noting that attorneys would be getting involved should their names be even remotely mentioned on Peeple. Critics and the general public quickly dismissed the creator’s claims of being a “positivity app” because of its sheer propensity to becoming an Internet dumping ground and nothing more than a revenge site.

Luckily for all of us, the Peeple app and its’ creators have gone to ground, backpedaling and retooling the product message into something that doesn’t even resemble how it began, taking out the most offensive parts of it (the inability to opt-out and inability remove negative reviews), leaving it as nothing more than a copy of LinkedIn’s referrals system. Less than three weeks after the Washington Post article detailing the app’s controversial features, Peeple has nothing left to show for itself but to be a cautionary tale of how seriously people take their privacy in the digital age.

While the Peeple app might be going away in much the same way as Lulu, Unvarnished, Klout and several other “people rating” apps, your privacy and security online is still incredibly important.

The Peeple app, when applied to Maryland’s Misuse of Interactive Computer Service Law (also known as Grace’s Law), does not fare well. Since the mere idea of an app like Peeple has surfaced, it has caused more than a few incidents of alarmed individuals not sleeping due to the mental distress of the mere thought of having someone post something reputation damaging and libelous on the app. Peeple also lacks a true, singular positive purpose for the usefulness of publicly displaying ratings and reviews of a person’s character online. Other than judging, shaming and leaving individuals open for severely damaging personal attacks, the app does nothing more than leave the gates wide open for libel and defamation lawsuits all over the country.

If you experience cyberbullying or are a victim of libel and defamation, contact a Maryland Personal Injury attorney that can help you get the justice you deserve.

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