The Impact of Smartphone “Peeping” Apps like Periscope

The Impact of Smartphone “Peeping” Apps like Periscope - Lovefone, London

Live streaming is a fairly new trend in today’s media, and it’s becoming more and more popular. People live stream video games on Twitch, and shows and events are streamed live on the internet. There are currently two prominent live streaming smartphone apps out: Meerkat (which came first) and Periscope. These apps allow users to easily live stream themselves at any time, and anyone using the app can just as easily view their live stream. Some users refer to the technology as “smartphone-pepping,” because it essentially allows any user to see through the pinhole of your camera if you are broadcasting in that moment. Understanding how they work, one can see why the trailblazers of this media chose such visually evocative names like Periscope and Meerkat—very apt indeed. Whether you have heard of these or not, they are growing fast. Periscope is by far the most popular, boasting over 10 million subscribers. Meerkat has much less than that, but is still used by many. Plenty of apps claim to have revolutionized smartphone use, but these live streaming apps may do more than that. However, the frequent use of these apps raises some interesting issues.

With the growing popularity of live streaming apps, certain legal issues are arising regarding how to regulate their use. These apps are often used out in public, meaning that while the user is live streaming, other people are being recorded. Many of these people are non-consenting strangers, unaware they are even on camera. This allows for “snippets of private conversations, copyrighted material, and other incidents” to be picked up. What is called the “right of publicity” says that any recorded video requires the permission of the people seen in the video. This can be repeatedly violated through the use of live streaming. There is even the issue of copyright infringement. One such dispute occurred when HBO took action against Periscope when users were live streaming the fifth season premier episode of Game of Thrones. This may prove to become more and more common. It seems quite easy for users to live stream many paid events, such as paid sporting events or unreleased movies. And, since it’s live, there is little to nothing to be done until after the fact. Legal issues like these bring a whole new dynamic to the concept of ‘smartphone etiquette.’

One of the biggest risks of social media is that you can make a fool of yourself in front of a lot of people. In fact, it’s often the embarrassing stuff that you didn’t think would go badly that ends up going viral. What you may think is a witty, clever comment on Facebook could end up offending lots of people. That ridiculous stunt that ended up getting you hurt now has thousands of views on YouTube because your friend was filming it on his smartphone. However, these errors can be fixed. You can pause before posting your Facebook status and think to yourself “Is this going to offend anyone?” You can delete it if it does. This is not so with live streaming.

Some of periscopes biggest fans find themselves apprehensive about using the app carelessly. Filmmaker and tech enthusiast Burnie Burns of Rooster Teeth has frequently discussed this concern on his podcast. "You never know if someone is just going to do or say something horrible and you can't take it back," said Burns. "It's not like making a video where if a joke doesn't land or someone is caught off guard you can just edit it." While this is explicitly why some users love Periscope (Burnie Burns himself is an avid user of Periscope) and such live-streaming apps, one can understand how it can be nerve-wracking suddenly being in front of thousands of people when a moment before it was just one person and a smartphone. That embarrassing thing you did? Yeah, it just happened, and everyone watching just saw it live.

As always, apps like this can be misused in the hands of children. Because this app is loosely regulated, and videos can’t be reviewed before they are streamed, there is little users can do to censor the videos they have access to. This means some inappropriate content may be easily accessible on these apps. Where before, smartphones made everyone think they were a photographer, now they have the ability to make everyone think they are a sort of television broadcaster. Because of this, there is no telling what may end up on these apps.

Over time, the rules and regulations surrounding these apps will evolve. This may drastically change how these apps are used, and how available they will be. For now, they are gaining attention and popularity despite some complaints. These apps make it so easy to broadcast a live video blog, and share your life with people at any moment. You are cutting out the process of capturing, editing, uploading, and then sharing videos. Now, if you want to share something with the world, you can just pull out your phone, say what you need to say, and you’re done. This could eliminate the need to take up large amounts of phone storage with saved videos. With so many people using these apps, someone is always watching, and live streaming apps literally always have something new to watch. It’s like a television channel that has a potentially infinite number of shows to choose from, playing non-stop, and open to everyone.

Author: Andrew Hendricks

January 21, 2016