Don’t get us wrong—we’re all for creative applications of technology. But for every game-changing app—think Spotify, Tinder, or Snapchat—there many more that should never have left the drawing board.
Case in point: LegalFling.
Offering a service that writers are doubtless already pitching for season five of Black Mirror, LegalFling is the first blockchain-based app to verify explicit consent before having sex.
How does it work? The software appears to operate like a kind of sex-only Tinder, where people are matched not on their compatibility, but on similar sexual boundaries. When a user meets someone they’d like to get down and dirty with in, say, a bar or club, they open the app, scroll to their contact, and send a request. Their sexual do’s and don’ts are then automatically communicated.
Don’t mistake this for a kink site, however. Rather than offering options for common turn-ons, the app asks users agree or disagree to categories like “use condom” and “STD free”—both of which, we’re pretty sure, are no-brainers for a one-night hookup.
If both parties agree to the terms, the app generates a legally-binding live contract, which is stored in the blockchain: an unhackable, decentralized ledger that records information. Clauses like the duration of consent can be negotiated—time limits can be set from anywhere from hours to eternity—and if the terms are broken, the app will send cease and desist letters and enforce penalty payments.
The whole thing is, obviously, incredibly problematic.
Firstly, there’s the issue of consent. Sure, the software’s promo material says—like the law decrees—that either party can withdraw consent on the app at any time. That, however, involves literally fucking with a person’s phone in their hand—something that makes enjoying oneself considerably more difficult—and leaves no provision for ensuring that both parties follow the decision at the exact moment that consent is revoked.
Then there’s the issue of the time limit. If an individual has marked that they are into BDSM with a partner before, changes their mind, and forgets to update the terms on the app, would verbally revoking their consent be ignored in court?
Coercion, too, is a problem. It’s far from uncommon that individuals are pressured into sex, and it’s just as possible that they can be strong-armed into pressing a button on an app—and that’s not to mention the possibility of stealing a partner’s phone and agreeing to terms without their knowledge.
Worst of all, however, are the punishments for breaking the contract. Cease and desist letters and financial penalties are laughably insufficient consequences for rape—and without evidence to prove that both parties stopped having sex as soon as consent was revoked, or even if they had sex at all, the app seems toothless as evidence in a real-life rape case.
LegalFling is currently in development for Android and iOS, and the company suggests it will be available subject to approval from Google and Apple. Here’s to hoping it never sees the light of day.
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays