"With LegalFling, we turn the #metoo's into #iFling's," read the since-deleted tagline of LegalFling, an app touting itself as the first legally binding, Blockchain-based service to verify explicit sexual consent.
Only, according to a barrister with an expertise in consent, in the UK there'll be nothing legally binding about it.
There are a handful of sexual consent apps already out there, including the "Consent Soundboard" – which wants to help people "give consent in style", with a range of bizarre pre-recorded sound clips like "Cowboy Yes" and "Female Angry No" – and WeConsent, an app that allows you to record a 20-second clip showing the faces of any parties involved in the sex act, with participants stating their name as well as the name of whoever they’re sleeping with.
The USP of LegalFling – which is due to be released in February, depending on sign off from Apple and Google – is that it's Blockchain-based, meaning users' data is more secure, and that it supposedly provides "legally binding" proof of consent.
The app hopes to be "a fun but clear way to set the rules before play", giving users the option to consent to sex itself, as well as other sex-related things, like whether you're happy to have sex without a condom or get a bit BDSM-y. The company envisions the process would go something like this: you send your date a consent request through the app, Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger; it sends them your personal sexual preferences; then you wait for them to swipe "okay" to consent – which apparently counts as a "legally binding agreement".
This process has been criticised for a couple of fairly obvious reasons. One: consent should be discussed verbally and openly, not relegated to a transactional phone app. Two: there's nothing to stop someone using a blacked-out person's finger to unlock their phone and tick "okay". Three: you might change your mind after ticking "okay". The app addresses that last issue by noting that you can "withdraw consent going forward through the LegalFling app with a single tap", but depending on what situation you're in that's not always going to be a practical option.
And what about that "legally binding" stuff? According to Kate Parker, a barrister and founder of the Schools Consent Project, trying to use the app as proof of consent would be "completely unworkable legally" in the UK – something LegalFling appears to be aware of, as, despite marketing the app as legally binding, they say on their website that the extent to which the agreement will hold up in court depends on your country of residence.
Arnold Daniels, one of LegalFling's co-founders, expanded on this point in a phone interview, admitting that the company is aware it may be difficult to implement this promise as standard. "To be honest, we aren’t 100 percent sure if we can make it legally binding in the US and the UK and other countries which have common law," he said.
Kate Parker stressed that, in the UK, the most you could hope for in a criminal trial is that the agreement would contribute towards circumstantial evidence as reasonable belief in consent. However, she notes that it would only hold the same weight as a witness seeing two people kissing, or texts alluding to sexual activity taking place, essentially making "the app completely defunct".
Arnold explained on the phone that, regardless of its legal legitimacy, the company hopes LegalFling will act as a prompt for people to have further discussions about consent. You can't argue with those intentions – clearly, the population at large needs to be better educated in this field – but the best way to educate people about consent is education, not confusingly-marketed phone apps.