How These Apps Are Trying to Change the Conversation Around Consent

How These Apps Are Trying to Change the Conversation Around Consent
Source: Getty
Source: Getty

On July 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law his state's version of a "Yes Means Yes" bill, which will require affirmative consent to be given by each party on private college campuses. The move came after a similar law for public universities became law last year in New York; California, the first state to enact a "Yes Means Yes" policy on college campuses, passed its own measure last September.

Now, a trio of new apps hopes to take the same idea of consent and make it happen using your smartphone.

"We-Consent," an umbrella platform consisting of three distinct consent-related apps, is the brainchild of Michael Lissack, a former Wall Street banker-turned-whistleblower. He and his team at the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence, which aims to bring together the academic and managerial fields, created the apps in order to "encourage discussion about affirmative consent between intended sexual partners."

We-Consent, the so-called "discussion app," is designed to be used prior to a sexual encounter. It asks each partner his or her name, as well as the name of the other party. It then captures each partner saying "yes" or "no" to a stated sexual encounter. According to the site, the encrypted video is available for seven years and is only viewable by law enforcement or during a college disciplinary proceeding.

"It's nice that the law has changed in California and New York, but you can't just change the system by announcing rules," Lissack told the Daily Beast. He added that his app gives users a "set of tools and props to help facilitate change."  

Though We-Consent isn't out in the Apple App Store and is only available to members of the ISCE, it adds an interesting layer to the ongoing debate surrounding consent on college campuses. We use our phones for everything — why not consent, too?

Other consent apps exist. A quick perusal of the App Store illustrates that Lissack isn't alone in his thinking. There are apps like iConsent, for example, which provides "an easy way to record a verbal statement of consent between two people in just a few steps."

But these apps have also run into trouble. Consider what Lissack told the Daily Beast: Apple turned down We-Consent because it was "icky." Or take the short-lived app Good2Go, designed to encourage consent with yes-or-no questions, which was banned by Apple after just nine days because it broke a rule against "excessively objectionable or crude content," according to its creator.

So is this a good idea? Consent is a necessary part of sexual intimacy, and anything that helps foster that — as well as helps promote discussions around it, as We-Consent appears to be doing — is a plus. It's not a topic we should be afraid of discussing, either as a society or with each other.

There are downsides, however. On the surface, the app might seem a little off-putting, particularly for people who enjoy their sexual encounters sans smartphone. 

But this argument ignores the fact that most sexual encounters — casual or familiar — are peppered by small breaks in the action. Putting on a condom, for example, requires a time-out, as does putting on music, taking your clothes off, switching positions, whipping out a sex toy and so on. Pausing to obtain consent may not be the hottest thing in the world, but simply arguing it's not cool because it interrupts things isn't convincing. 

Other issues, however, are more problematic. As the Independent notes, the app "has also drawn criticism with [skeptics] saying the app could possibly give perpetrators access to force, coerce or threaten their partner into saying yes on camera." 

Moreover, as David Rudovsky, a criminal defense attorney, told the Daily Beast, "It shifts the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused, and I think that's very unfair practice in our criminal system." 

"We reduced smoking in this country not by threatening to lock people in jail for lighting up but by educating them. The same should be true of affirmative consent," he added.

The debate surrounding consent is ever-changing, and We-Consent is simply another example of this. We have yet to reach a perfect solution, but encouraging conversation is rarely a bad thing — and for that, these apps are invaluable.