According to a report by The Verge, the controversial Stolen people-trading app has been resurrected under the name Famous. It has the same basic premise, where Twitter profiles are essentially collected by users, but the language and tone has shifted considerably. The new app is available today on the App Store, and comes complete with Famous.AF website (“AF” is millennial for “as fuck”, hence “Famous as fuck”) and the same nonsensical tweets as before.
Gadgette was instrumental in Stolen’s withdrawal last time. Our interview with CEO Siqi Chen proved that the team behind the app hadn’t thought it through, and their system would allow them to literally profit from harassment. The volume of opt-outs Stolen received when our article went live caused them to rethink the whole thing and withdraw.
So what was our issue? On Stolen, people “owned” Twitter users without their permission. If you had a Twitter account and one of your followers joined, you were added to the app automatically. Someone could own you and you wouldn’t even know, unless they decided to harass you on Twitter with the knowledge that your image and name belonged to them. You could even write unfiltered “nicknames” and slurs on people’s profiles unchecked. Apparently the developers didn’t see the harassment potential.
This is where the story takes a surprising twist. Zoe Quinn, no stranger to harassment, has now joined the development team as a paid consultant despite having issues with the original version of the app. Quinn told The Verge that although she was concerned with Stolen and immediately requested to opt out, she reached out to the developers and offered support when the app was removed from the App Store. The developers were receiving a lot of backlash and Quinn was looking out for them. Apparently one thing led to another and now we have a relaunch of the app with Quinn’s approval.
Famous looks different. It’s more colourful, less sinister, and the language is upbeat and positive. It isn’t a slave auction; it’s a fandom. You don’t own people; you’re their biggest fan. It appears to be the same app but with a friendlier skin. The biggest change is that the app is now opt-in; nobody can be your biggest fan unless you’ve chosen to be available in the app. In fact, it’s basically all the things we told them it should be in our initial interview.
Now the question is: will some bright colours, stars, messages of admiration, and going opt-in remove the scope for harassment? If you’re available in the app and a user wants to own you, they can – but now it’s presented as really liking you. It’s a subtle but important difference. The presentation appears to have changed more than the mechanics, though you can now see a list of the people who have been your biggest fans in the past rather than just the current super fan. The top fan can leave messages on their own profile but other than that it seems to be difficult to harass people within the app.
Siqi Chen told The Verge that they want to build a community and allow more interaction within the app but that they’re being cautious about it. Quinn has been impressed by the team’s attitude, telling The Verge: “It’s one thing to criticise stuff, which is super important and necessary. But the other half of it is, how can we do better? They’re so invested in trying to do the right thing. They don’t want to ignorantly blunder in there and accidentally make something that hurts people. It’s really heartening.”
While Famous is basically just Stolen with a new face, it looks like serious thought has been given to making the system more friendly and less enabling for harassers. Going opt-in is a no-brainer and very welcome. We’re also happy to see the team take criticism, apologise, and try to better themselves and their work.
However, we’d love to know what Tinder thinks of their new logo. Hmm.
Main image © Famous