We-Consent dating app takes “yes” for an answer

We-Consent lets a couple generate a video record of their mutual consent to sexual relations.
We-Consent lets a couple generate a video record of their mutual consent to sexual relations.

With America’s colleges and universities cracking down on campus sexual assault, a seemingly harmless “hookup” could lead to an accusation of rape. A Marblehead man with an unusual career history hopes to change the conversation, with software apps that aim to prove whether a potential partner has said “yes” or “no.”

One of the new apps, We-Consent, uses an Apple iPhone’s video camera and microphone to arrange trysts. “Say yes or no . . . Consent confirmed. Have fun,” the app intones in a breathy, British-accented female voice.

We-Consent’s businesslike, unsentimental tone doesn’t sit well with Apple Inc., which has refused to offer the software in its online App Store.

“They don’t want their name on it,” said Michael Lissack, a former Wall Street bond trader and federal whistleblower who helped develop the app. “They think it’s icky.”

Lissack distributes the app from a website operated by the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence, a think tank where he serves as director. It is priced at $5 per year.

Apple has agreed to host another of Lissack’s apps. What-About-No, also priced at $5 per year, lets a user shoot video of a person making unwanted advances, while the phone’s screen shows a video of a stern-looking policeman warning that “no means no.”

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

We-Consent lets a couple generate a video record of their mutual consent to sexual relations. The app asks each person for his or her name, and whether each wants to have sex with the other.

Meanwhile, the phone’s front and rear cameras capture images of the persons’ faces, while the microphone records their agreement. The app works only if the cameras detect human faces, and both parties must orally agree to sex. If one says “no” or cannot be clearly seen, the process ends and the recording is destroyed.

Completed recordings are encrypted and transmitted to a remote server, where they will be saved for seven years. Lissack said the video will be released only to someone who has obtained a court-issued subpoena. Even the people who made the video must obtain a court order to get copies.

What-About-No works in much the same way. There’s a free version that claims to be recording video, but really isn’t — it’s like using a fake surveillance camera to scare off burglars. But the pay version, $5 per year, stores a video record of the incident, available only with a court order.

A similar app, Good2Go, was introduced last autumn, but withdrawn within days after Apple objected.

Lissack isn’t a typical software entrepreneur. In the early 1990s, he was managing director of the municipal bond department at Smith Barney Inc. In 1993, he informed federal regulators of questionable business practices at various investment companies. When the companies paid $250 million in penalties to settle the matter, Lissack got about 15 percent of the money as a reward under whistle-blower laws. He also pleaded guilty in 1998 to second-degree harassment for sending harassing e-mails to executives of his former company. Lissack received no jail time and paid no fine.

Lissack later earned a doctorate in business administration from Henley Management College in the United Kingdom.

Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus in Wayne, Pa., said that instead of relying on technology, people considering a sexual relationship should get to know each other. “These are conversations that people should be trained to have,” Kiss said. “I think that conversation has to happen earlier than when you’re videotaping your consent for what’s about to happen.”

Lissack said We-Consent is mainly a tool to get couples talking and thinking about the implications of starting a sexual relationship. “The main point of the app is to change the way conversations happen, not for the app to be used,” Lissack said. “Sometimes we need props to trigger conversations.”

Hiawatha Bray is a technology reporter for the Boston Globe. E-mail him at [email protected].
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