Tinder for escorts, will it really work?
A new German smartphone app is looking to cut out the “pimp” and allow users to hire an escort from the safety and comfort of their home.
Dubbed Ohlala, the app has been called “Uber for escorts” by TechCrunch.
“Whatever those two people want to do – may it be to give company at a dinner or end up in bed together – is a private matter and should be agreed upon in the chat before meeting,”said Ohlala’s creator.
It’s a move that many equates with “putting the power back in the hands of the women.” Users, or “gentlemen” as Ohlala demurely calls them, register for free and make a pitch, including hourly rate, duration of the date, place and personal preferences. They then send their pitches to available “ladies” nearby.
The escorts’ profiles are private and verified by Ohlala, not least to ensure that women are signing up voluntarily. “We conduct interviews to vet them and to make sure they know what they’re doing,” said Poppenreiter, who this year advised the government on changes to its prostitution law. “If they don’t speak much German, for example, we won’t verify them.”
The women decide themselves what happens next. If they choose to reply to the booking request, they can open a chat on the platform and the rest is up to them. Perhaps the date will involve dinner, a visit to the opera. Perhaps it will involve sex. Whatever course it takes, money will change hands, although Ohlala doesn’t take a fee for facilitating the transaction.
Instead, it aims to monetize with functions, product placement, content such as a blog and possible membership. “That’s an ethical choice, but it’s also a question of criminal liability,” Poppenreiter said. Although Germany legalized prostitution in 2002, advancing or promoting prostitution is a criminal offense.
Legal restrictions will inevitably be the biggest obstacles facing Ohlala’s expansion. But there is growing international consensus that the Web has done more than any law had to make prostitution less hazardous. In 2013, for example, Scott Peppet, a University of Colorado Law School professor, made waves with a paper called “Prostitution 3.0,” in which he argues that governments need to start factoring new technologies into debates about reforming sex work laws.
Using tech to transform the sex trade
For now, Poppenreiter (founder) insists on using the term “paid dates,” skirting the issue by saying that exactly what transpires when users meet is none of Ohlala’s business. “What is a prostitute anyway?” she asked. “Is it someone who has sex for money as a full-time job? Are you a prostitute just because you do it once? I don’t like labels and I would prefer to distance myself from certain language. We want to develop a tool for users, not engage in political debate. The service we’re offering is honest and straightforward.”
Sonja Dolinsek agrees. A researcher on sex work at the University of Erfurt, she feels that Ohlala could tackle prejudices about “the oldest profession” by helping to smarten up its image. “Ultimately, women have always used their sexuality for financial gain,” she said. “Sex workers might do so professionally, but that’s the only difference between them and other women who capitalize on their sexuality.”
Dolinsek welcomes the possibility that an app like Ohlala could improve perceptions of sex work and is also convinced that it could make it safer. “So long as sex workers are vilified by society, there will be an increased risk of violence,” she said. “Perpetrators know that no one, not even police in many cases, care about sex workers. An app like this means that johns are registered.”
For now, Ohlala is geared to the upper tier of the sex trade. According to the Federal Statistics Office, only 60,000 of Germany’s 400,000 sex workers are call girls and escorts rather than street walkers. But it nonetheless shows how technology can be used to help lift sex workers out of the criminal world. “Today they can control their image, set their prices, and sidestep some of the pimps, madams, and other intermediaries who once took a share of the revenue,” Wired magazine wrote back in 2011.
As Ohlala’s founder points out, even those who have moral doubts about the service should be able to recognize its potential. “It’s disrupting an industry that needs to be disrupted,” Poppenreiter said.
Will this pick up in NZ? May be Poppenreiter should launch here, as NZ has decriminalised prostitution. What’s your thoughts?