The Problem With Safety Online

Apps and social media websites are places where stalking, harassment and abuse run rampant.

For many women, just stating an opinion on the internet causes harassment. This says nothing of the women who are in or have left abusive relationships and are being harassed by partners. It is easier to hide behind a computer screen then it is to say horrible things to someones face, and it adds the same kind of anonymity and lack of responsibility even if your name is published.

The internet consistently demonstrates its capacity to alienate is just as strong as its capacity to connect and more often than not women are the victims.

The new app Peeple is taking none of this into consideration.

A recent United Nations Broadband Commissions report “reveals that almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence.” This is a very high number compared with the fact that “only 26 percent of law enforcement agencies in the 86 countries surveyed are taking appropriate action.”

It is young women, aged 18 to 24, who are most “likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment in addition to physical threats.” Much like sexual assault and harassment in real life situations, women are “reluctant to report their victimization for fear of social repercussions,” and when they do, often little is done.

Rating Applications
In early 2014, a US television show called “Community” had an episode called “App Development and Condiments.” It featured an app where students were able to rate each other based on a five star model. The community college “Greendale” quickly became obsessed with the app and things quickly turned dark. The school turned into a futuristic dystopia, where your standing on the app determined your standing in the school.

“MeowMeowBeenz™ takes everything subjective and unspoken about human interaction and reduces it to explicit, objective numbers. I’ve never felt so alive.” – Abed Nadir

Luckily, that is just a TV show playing with how we see ourselves, how we change ourselves on the internet to be admired and how we value how many followers and likes we have as though it means anything in our day to day lives.

In late August fiction became reality when, Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, announced Peeple, an app that allows you to rate people you know.

In the beginning, if you had the app and gave someone a two star rating or less, you would have to explain why. The negative review would go straight to their inbox and they would have 48 hours to get in contact with you in order to work through the problem. If you don’t, the comments are put on their profile and they can’t delete it.

For women in domestic abuse situations, the internet opens up a lot of doors for harassment. If they have the app, former partners would be able to hurl abuse at them knowing that once it moves to their profile, they can’t delete it.

Since the app was announced founders experienced what many women experience online: “Since the interview with The Washington Post, I’ve received death threats and extremely insulting comments aimed at me, my investors, and my family on almost every social media tool possible. I hope now if nothing else by watching me you can clearly see why the world needs more love and positivity.”

This experience has shaped the development of Peeple, which is now opt in only. This means people will not be able to rate you unless you have created and verified an account. There are also no negative comments allowed on the app, but there is still not much information on how this is going to be policed.

Women’s Aid and Safety
Women’s Aid released a statement on the app when it was released stating that safety needs to be more of a priority when new technology is being created.

“Furthermore, it points to a wider issue: there is a worrying failure to consider safety when new technology is being developed. Safety often seems to be an afterthought, rather than being a considered element of a new app’s development. There needs to be a fundamental shift in thinking about safety within tech companies.”

Cyberbullying, harassment and stalking should always be the first topic brought up in meetings, especially on an app that allows negative comments. This also opens up a broader question, which Women’s Aid posed, about the safety protocols that should be met when any app is being created.

App Store, Safety Guidelines and Girls Around Me
To get more information on how applications are accepted on the App Store, all you have to do is go to Apple’s website. There is a detailed Terms and Conditions where they state that they are committed to their users.

After reading through the list, there are a few, slightly vague, mentions of safety regulations. The first states:

“We will reject Apps for any content or behaviour that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, “I’ll know it when I see it.” And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.”

This very strict approach allowed an app called “Girls Around Me” through the censors in 2012. If you had an open Facebook page and checked into Foursquare, people could open the app and find out where you were, how long ago you got there and were able to access all the information and photographs on your profile.

This predatory app was taken down but it shows that the rules for online safety need to be regulated.

I have discussed internet safety with many people over the course of writing this article and I keep being told that the internet is still fairly new. While this is true, it cannot be an excuse. We have applications for everything, our phones are attached to our sides at every moment and new technology is introduced every day. If we are able to accomplish these feats, why aren’t we able to make it safe?

With the rise of technology, we should be monitoring how safety applies to our online lives and have education on technology and safety become part of our schools curriculum.

Written by our Intern Seana Stevenson.

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