Julia Cordray, co-founder of Peeple, an app that some are calling "Yelp for people," has had a rough week.
Outlets like The Washington Post, The Guardian, Wired, and yes, even Motherboard, have all critiqued Peeple and raised the alarm over its implications for privacy. Of course, there's also legions of social media users who have called out Peeple and Cordray herself. Apparently, most folks seem to dislike the idea of an app that lets strangers rate and review your behaviour, even if you're not signed up for the service.
Cordray's response to all of this has been cavalier, to say the least, calling critics bullies and seeking to block commenters on Facebook. Some might say she's not handling it well, while others—more charitable others—might applaud her for stoking the flames of interest around a product that doesn't even exist yet, since the app is still in the beta testing sign-up stage, and is slated for a November launch.
I reached out to Cordray via email, as she was unreachable by phone. (An employee told me Cordray was in California, though she hails from Calgary.) I asked her about the idea behind the app, all the criticism, and her response to all the drama. She answered my questions to help out a fellow Canadian, she said. So read on, eh?
MOTHERBOARD: A lot of people seem very scared or angry that your app would appear to violate people's privacy. You're not the first to have this idea, either—there's Lulu, for example. But yours does seem to be the first to make public ratings and reputation a general principle. What compelled you to do this?
Julia Cordray: Gone are the days where we live in a village and you can just go down the street and ask about someone. Imagine living in a new world where you can protect your greatest assets such as your children, house, money and reputation. Also imagine an online village where you can be uplifted and spoken highly about by your network because you know you are the best of the best. Where you can get dream jobs, make more money, network more efficiently, or meet the love of your life. Now more than ever our world needs love and kindness and we believe that this online people rating system with integrity, respect, and accountability will help you shine and make better decisions based on the character of those around you.
"With any new concept there is naturally fear"
Do you think any of the arguments about privacy, or just how terrifying it would be to assume you're being watched at all times, have merit?
With any new concept there is naturally fear. When the people found out that the Earth was round instead of flat and that we revolved around the Sun instead of the Sun revolving around us, naturally people were upset and confused and they pushed back with all that they had. Bringing a new idea to market when people don't believe that the world is genuinely a good place filled with amazing people there will be push back and fear. We look forward to proving that the people in this world are genuinely good and positive and they will uplift you on our app with over 80 percent positivity.
Did you anticipate the backlash? SketchFactor, Lulu, and similar apps all faced harsh criticism when they launched.
Yes, new ideas can equal fear and anger or both.
Critics have pointed out that asking how to block commenters on Facebook is a tad ironic, given Peeple's focus on transparency. How do you reconcile that?
We have had to block people that are not giving constructive feedback on making our app better. They are just saying that they don't like it without telling us politely what they would prefer. These are our social media pages and we will answer respectful questions but will not tolerate bullying of us or anyone else just to get their way. Anyone that has respectfully offered ways to make the app better or asked questions that have not already been answered have been addressed. Just like on our app there are checks and balances necessary to guide people towards positive behaviour. If people want to be heard it is best if they respect us and sign up for beta testing. We stand for positivity and don't want to spend valuable energy on negativity if it does not help the greater good.
Watch more from Motherboard: The Lost Art of Canada's Doomed Pre-Internet Web
You say you received $50,000 for your app through a business grant from the Government of Canada. What was that process like? Were any concerns raised about the privacy implications of your product?
[Ed. note: Cordray chose not to respond to this question.]
Facebook's API blocked you from scraping data. Will you try and partner with other companies for similar purposes?
Facebook's API now blocks all apps from doing this. No. Not currently.
When Peeple launches, are you worried about negative reviews yourself? Would you change your behaviour?
The people that personally know me will be able to rate me and I look forward to seeing their experience of me. You see I know the good that I have done in this world including donating $16,000 to the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter. Donating over $20,000 to the Sunshine Foundation. Feeding the homeless. Mentoring other entrepreneurs and business students. Helping people in Canada/US get dream jobs for eight years. Publicly speaking to students at the universities, speaking to business owners about branding, sales and marketing, being nominated for countless awards… There is so much to celebrate about the way I have shown up in this world for the people that know me and once people see just how kind, thoughtful, generous, and a leader I have been I will naturally have more abundance due to this app. I have shown up consistently and really well in this world and I have nothing to hide. I am proud of the leader I have become.