Comment

This blockchain sexual consent app is a VERY bad idea

By Kitty Knowles 12 January 2018
LegalFling - sexual consent apps are dangerous. Image: Getty/ nd3000
Summary

LegalFling risks empowering sexual predators.

We all know we shouldn’t have sex with anyone without their consent – to do so is a crime.

Kissing someone isn’t consent. Going back to their place isn’t consent.

Even if a person displays consent by initiating sexual intercourse – that consent can be retracted at any time, right up until and at any time during any sexual acts.

And yet today, blockchain technologists have released a blockheaded consent app that undermines all of the above.

LegalFling serves to legally “log explicit sexual consent”, and it’s a very bad idea.

How LegalFling works

To use LegalFling you simply ask for consent through the app and indicate upfront what the do’s and don’t are in the bedroom, it’s makers say.

Consent to activities can be accepted or declined with the swipe of a finger.

This is “a lot easier than putting on protection,” the announcement states – because it’s really helpful to imply that safe sex is a hardship…

LegalFling also has settings to explicitly agree that intimate photos cannot be shared – with options to attach a penalty clause to this agreement.

“This makes taking your fling to court later a lot easier,” states the team.

“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,” adds creator Rick Schmitz.

Image: LegalFling.

Totally missing the mark

All of this, however, totally misses the mark, and at its worst, risks empowering sexual predators.

The unbending nature of what makes blockchain a great recording system is completely at odds with the fluid changeable nature of consent.

What happens if you sign this digital contract but change your mind during foreplay, or during sex and want to stop?

LegalFling says it acknowledges that ‘No means no’ at any time, as does being passed out, and that ‘single click’ can withdraw consent.

But you can’t get around the fact it empowers any partner who goes on to commit rape to say: ‘But I had their digital consent, they wanted it’.

LegalFling also totally overlooks those who may be at risk of sexual abuse by coercion: it’s not hard to imagine how threatening partners could force vulnerable people into signing away their consent to disempower them in the bedroom – and in court.

It’s hard enough to report sexual crimes already without having your attacker wield a digital document around.

And the idea that LegalFling could prevent the harrowing emotional damage that revenge porn – or the sharing of intimate images – causes, is ridiculous.

In many countries, including the UK, it is already illegal to disclose a “private sexual photograph or film” without consent, and these criminals can already be held accountable.

What cannot be prevented by law, or LegalFling, or any payout settlement, is the anguish caused, as once these image are out, they are very difficult (if not impossible) to totally track down and remove forever.

To make the whole situation even more sickening, it’s creators are also piggybacking on genuine positive and empowering news events to push LegalFling into the limelight.

For example in its press release, the LegalFling team point to Sweden’s plans to transform rape legislation to require explicit consent of both partners (something that won’t ‘fix’ consent, but could help to un-muddy the waters).

Its creators even climb onto the #metoo bandwagon – referencing the powerful anti-harassment campaign to appear ‘feminist by association’. That’s despite the fact it could actually help to facilitate sexual misconduct.

WeConsent is a video consent app. Image/YouTube.
WeConsent is a video consent app. Image/YouTube.

When will techies learn?

It’s not the first time we’ve seen an appalling app-first approach to consent.

We ripped into Britain’s WeConsent video consent app when it launched in 2015 for many of the same reasons listed above.

What’s more, both rape victims and student union leaders were quick to note how “dangerous” it was.

LegalFling is just as dangerous.

As I’ve said before: technology should never be used as a shortcut solution to a social problem.

You could have all the rape-protection technology in the world, but only better sex education will ensure our better understanding of the importance of sexual consent.

This should be where we place our technological efforts – in schools, and in informative and educational campaigns.

“She gave digital consent, so she wanted it”, is not a defence we want to hear anytime soon.

UPDATE: The Memo raised its concerns with LegalFling who replied with the following statement:

We’ve created LegalFling in response of the new Swedish law stating that explicit consent is required before the act of sex. This law is a clear signal, but mostly symbolic.

One of the problems is, what are you consenting to? If you want to have sex, does that mean anything is a go? Of course not.

To be honest, a law like this shouldn’t be necessary in the first place and neither should this app. Unfortunately, reality shows that it is. The moral standards are so misaligned that we need to be explicit about our do’s and don’ts concerning sex.

You can configure your preferences in the app and by flinging, the rules and boundaries are communicated with your partner. While education is very important. This app uniquely gives the possibility o remind about basic decency like “no mean no” and “being passed out means no” at the time it matters most, right before having sex.

We do not think the agreement will empower sexual predators due to the way it’s constructed. It’s legally binding to enforce those things that make sense to do so. Take for example nude pictures. You might both consent to this, however that doesn’t mean this pictures can be shared. Yes, this is already forbidden by law, but litigating for this through criminal court is tough and expensive, so most don’t do so. The contract contains a non-disclosure agreement with a penalty clause in case you break this. Knowing a share could mean a $50.000 fine, will make you think twice.

‘Anti-rape’ tech won’t stop violence against women