The new 'Yelp for people' app is a psychologist's nightmare

You’ve probably heard about Peeple, the new app that lets you rate everyone from your friends to neighbours to ex-romantic partners the same way you rate businesses on Yelp.

When the app launches in November, you’ll be able to leave reviews and rate people on a 5-star scale. All you need is their phone number, The Washington Post reports.

A beta version of the app already exists.

PostbyPeeple.

Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, the app’s co-founders, thought it would be useful to research people before you began a relationship with them the same way you would research a car or anything else before you committed to buying it. McCullough, a mother of two, said she created the app because she wanted a way to decide whether or not she could trust her neighbours.

But several psychologists we talked to think it’s a terrible idea. Here’s why:

1. It totally removes the human element

Psychologist Pamela Rutledge, the director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Newport Beach, California, says the idea of using online ratings to learn about another person’s character is ridiculous. 

If you want to know your neighbours, she told Business Insider, “talk to them so you actually know what they’re like.”

Instead of a nuanced face-to-face interaction, people will be able to give blanket judgements on Peeple, she said. As a society, we’re already struggling to figure out how to navigate human relationships in an online world, and reducing someone to a single number or a basic review is “a gross simplification of human experience,” added Rutledge. 

2. It takes things out of context

Then there’s the fact that these ratings could be based on a single interaction, like a bad date. You wouldn’t believe some random person on the street who shouted that your partner was a terrible lover, for example. So why would you believe an app user?

As Rutledge put it, “A recommendation is only as good as the recommender.”

But not everyone we spoke with took a uniformly negative view of the app. “If I’m entering college and want some idea of other people who have chosen my major, that information could give me some kind of an icebreaker, and make me feel like I know a little bit about somebody,” psychologist Marcia Scherer, president of the Institute for Matching Person and Technology (an organisation that helps people with disabilities, students, and employees find the right technologies), told Business Insider.

3. It may be easy to scam people

The founders of the app are taking some measures to protect against potential scams, but like any online interaction, there’s always the potential for someone to take advantage. In order to review someone, for example, you have to be at least 21 years old and have an existing Facebook account, and you must use your real name (though how they plan to enforce this is unclear).

As far as we can tell, the system doesn’t currently prevent someone from setting up a fake persona. “I think [the app’s founders are] underestimating what will happen in a site like that,” psychologist Patricia Wallace, author of “The Psychology of the Internet,” told Business Insider.

4. Like any review, it’s subject to bias

As websites like Yelp have made clear, the kinds of people who leave reviews are usually the ones who had an extremely negative or extremely positive experience, something known as extreme response bias.

As the theory holds, people who use the app will tend to either love you or hate you, which is why they’d bother taking the time to rate you.

But there’s another weird potential problem as well: Users might only see negative reviews for certain people. According to the Washington post, positive Peeple reviews will be posted right away, whereas negative ones must go to a private inbox for 48 hours so users can respond to them. And if you aren’t registered with the app, your profile will only show positive reviews (since you can’t contest negative ones unless you have an account).

5. It could be pretty bad for users’ self esteem

Getting a negative review could have a pretty terrible effect on those who use the service. This would “create a new layer of anxiety based on nothing,” said Rutledge.

Whether people will take this app seriously remains to be seen. But in the end, Scherer said, “the free market is going to decide if people want to use it or not.”

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