I tried reaching out to you twice, but never heard back, so I’m instead writing here, on behalf of all women, to talk about your consent app. It’s daunting task, but one I’m willing to accept, especially because that means I’m rolling with a pretty sweet crew: God (a woman, according to Ariana Grande, which is good enough for me), my sister, my mother, Beyoncé, my gyno, my coworkers, and my friends.
I like to imagine that your consent app started with the best of intentions. You noticed the momentum of the #MeToo movement (a good thing!) and blockchain’s growing popularity (a debatable thing!) and thought: What if we put the two together? That’s it! We’ll make a consent app… protected by blockchain! And so you ended up with a Black Mirror-type piece of technology that you promised would solve the awkwardness and murkiness of consent. I can almost picture your team sitting around a table, patting yourselves on the back, never once having someone raise their hand to ask, “Uh, does anyone else think this app is problematic?”
Truth is, the idea isn’t horrible on the surface. In a perfect world, I meet someone IRL or online with whom I’d like to “Fling.” Our relationship doesn’t have to be just a short-lived Fling, but the point is, there will be sex. We’ll both agree upon what we’ll do in bed, and then we’ll stick to that agreement exactly. Simple!
But first, we both download the app, and set up accounts. I spend an ungodly amount of time adding a photo to my account, because it must be a live selfie, not an upload from my camera roll. It’ll take me at least 15 tries to find a passable angle and decent lighting in my New York City coworking space.
The photo doesn’t really matter, though, because LegalFling isn’t a dating app where a person would swipe right after glancing at someone’s photo for a nanosecond. It’s a consent app, meaning it records how many (or how few) sexual acts I’d like to perform on or with a particular partner, and locks in those preferences. If I or my partner break our previously agreed-upon, blockchain-encrypted rules, one of us would face a cash penalty (starting at $500). And because all of this is secured with blockchain, that cash penalty is legally mine or his to pay.
Ok, now to the juicy stuff. Once I’ve downloaded the app and set a profile pic, I click a wheel icon to set up my sexual preferences. The first set of options has Yes/No toggle buttons: Photo’s & Video’s [sic] (to determine if a user wants to send/received sexy selfies); Keep it Secret (whether or not a user wants anyone, ahem, another partner, to know about their Fling); Safe Sex (condoms, I’m assuming); French Kissing (a nod to Pretty Woman?). Then for Oral and Anal preferences, I choose from a scroll-down menu: No, Giving, Receiving, and Both.
Now I’m ready to Fling! (Or get Flung?) Once I’ve decided on my personal preferences, I go to the app’s main panel via a heart icon and exchange QR codes with a boo to seal the deal, so to speak. And because my partner and I are only going to do exactly what we agreed upon in the app, what could go wrong? Right?
After a solid five minutes of us failing to connect, my boyfriend gave his his official review: “This app literally sucks.”
My boyfriend and I tried it the other night. Separately, we chose our preferences, then came together to scan each other’s QR codes and draw up our contract. First, I tried scanning his code with my phone. My phone registered the request, but not his. Then he tried scanning my code. Still, we weren’t able to connect. (I’m trying not to take this personally.) But wait, he has an iPhone 5 and mine is a 6S—does that mean we’re not technologically compatible enough to give each other consent? It’s a good thing we weren’t half-naked and raring to go, because we never actually could figure the damn thing out. After a solid five minutes of us failing to connect, my boyfriend gave his his official review: “This app literally sucks.”
But beyond software glitches and typos, there’s a bigger problem: app developers thinking that all the complications of consent can be solved by, well, an app. Consent is all about communication, and it’s tough to communicate through the swipe of a finger—especially when that swipe means a previously-decided on agreement is set in stone. As a reminder from The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), a person can withdraw consent at any time. Consent can—and should—happen continuously throughout a sexual act. So just because I told a guy I’d have sex with him on an app doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind as the clothes are hitting the floor. I know, I know, your LegalFling website addresses this by saying: “Revoking consent is always done verbally at any time and without giving a reason.” Good, good. But then there’s this: “You never use the app to revoke consent.” Then why even use a consent app in the first place?
You’ve also also thought about what to do when a partner doesn’t follow by the app’s rules: “In case the rules of consent were not honered [sic], the app can be used afterwards to secure a statement and get professional help.” While that sounds nice, it’s really no guarantee that a woman’s voice would be believed or heard if the contract were broken.
All of which leads me to: Who exactly is your app protecting? Certainly not women. Let’s say a woman contractually refuses to allow french kissing with her Fling. If her male partner shoves his tongue down her throat, which goes against their contract, at the end of the day, even in a court of law, it’s still his word against hers, no matter what your fancy blockchain-encrypted technology recorded. LegalFling is a shield for men, plain and simple. It’s giving dudes the chance to cover their asses and say, “Well, I said I wouldn’t make out with her on LegalFling, so obviously it didn’t happen!” The whole idea reeks of toxic bro culture—men protecting men. So I wasn’t exactly shocked to see that your parent company, LegalThings, is entirely comprised of them.
If you can’t spell “honor” right, why should I expect you to honor my trust?
Plus, while blockchain is an attractive buzzword used to lure investors these days, it also means that LegalFling is now holding onto a set-in-stone list of all the people I’ve slept with. And do any of us really want that? Diaries can be burned, but a blockchain is forever—and is my list of sexual partners really the kind of information I want etched into the history of the internet for all time? Signing up for LegalFling means I’m essentially saying goodbye to my right to forget—and be forgotten by—a former partner. It also means I’m trusting a company that can’t spell or build a functioning app to keep my sexual history private for all of eternity. If you can’t spell “honor” right, why should I expect you to honor my trust?
I get it, consent is confusing. But in the wake of #MeToo, it just feels like you’re rushing to find a quick-fix to a complicated issue. Even in your FAQs, one of the questions is, “Are you promoting rape culture?” I mean, if you have to ask… As more and more of us come forward to talk about sexual assault and rape culture, it’s important that we all educate ourselves on the nuances of consent. And let’s face it—your app just can’t do that. It can’t follow a couple into the bedroom and be the judge of what exactly did or didn’t happen during a sexual encounter. It can’t prove that someone verbally revoked consent. And it certainly won’t give women any more of a voice when consent contracts, even blockchain-encrypted ones, are broken.
In a press release announcing your product to the world, your LegalThings CEO Rick Schmitz said, “Asking someone to sign a contract before having sex is a little uncomfortable. With LegalFling, a simple swipe to consent is enough to legally justify the fling.” My god, even this phrasing, where Schmitz essentially pits legality against consent, says that LegalFling is out to protect the offenders, not the offended. So Mr. Schmitz, on behalf of all women, I must say: Do better. Think more deeply about the real purpose of your app, and who it’s actually working for.
And for the love of god, hire some women.
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