Periscope: the problematic potential

For the last couple of months, the Internet has been fascinated by the latest trending App in the technology world, Periscope. Referred to almost daily in the media, purchased by Twitter for a reported $100 million dollars and used by a staggering 20,000 individuals on the day of its launch, Periscope is set to be big business. But what is it, what does it actually do, and what could it mean?

Branded by its creators Kayvon Bekypour and Joe Bernstein as a tool through which to ‘discover the world through someone else’s eyes’, Periscope is a live video streaming app for use on iOS. Users can broadcast a video direct from their iPhone – choosing whether to make their footage public or private – and viewers are, according to the Periscope team, given the chance to ‘travel the world and step into someone else’s shoes.’

The app’s marketing blurb explains Periscope’s creation story, stating ‘it may sound crazy, but we wanted to build the closest thing to a teleportation device […] a picture may be worth a thousand words, but live video can take you some place and show you around’.

Now, while there may be benefits to this – sharing moments with long-distance friends or family, involving colleagues or clients in business presentations or proceedings, showing off your holiday… – reading through Periscope’s description of the ‘advantages’ the app offers is a little unsettling.

It states, ‘whether you’re witnessing your daughter’s first steps or a newsworthy event […] broadcasters are able to feel their audience and interact’. ‘Viewers influence the broadcaster by sending messages, expressing their love by tapping the screen to send hearts’. It continues, ‘what excites us most is the power of seeing something for yourself, we’ve watched a terrifying fire that erupted in San Francisco’.

It is uncertain just what about the above is supposed to be positive. Rather than the ‘exciting’ sense of transportation that the marketing team is clearly trying to convey, this feels a little like the 21st century version of a peeping tom, capitalizing on the bizarre elements of human nature that take perverse pleasure in rubbernecking.

What’s more, it seems glaringly obvious that such an app can be used in less innocent ways than ‘watching someone rise above the Sonama valley in a hot air balloon.’ The assumption that the people being ‘live-streamed’ are consenting, for example, is a dangerous one.

As is the, admittedly less sinister, question of copyright. There have already been several cases where Periscope users have live-streamed something that others must pay for – like the fifth season premiere of Game of Thrones, and, more recently, the professional boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. While Periscope’s terms and conditions specify that rebroadcasting copyrighted material may lead to the suspension of the offending user’s account, it seems that more needs to be done to combat this.

As Periscope claim, their app is ‘a visual pulse of what’s happening right now’ – it could be this very ‘selling point’ that causes the most problems, and could prove to be their ultimate downfall.