School of Computer Science apologises for 'consent app' email

The UCD School of Computer Science has stated that an email which sought mobile app developers to create a sexual consent app was "issued in error" by the School before it was circulated and asked that students disregard it.

Head of the School of Computer Science Professor Pádraig Cunningham issued an apology to students on Tuesday 12th March for circulating the email, marked as "Urgent", which offered students equity in a company in return for developing an application which would purport to record and verify that a person had consented to take part in sexual activities. Prof Cunningham wrote that the original email, composed and sent to the School by a Fourth Year UCD Medicine student, had not been reviewed and that the School's emailing lists "should not have been used to circulate this email."

Following requests for comment from the University Observer, Prof Cunningham apologised for the offence that the email had caused and promised to "review and improve its approval process for all proposed emails to be sent to students on our lists to ensure that this can not [sic] happen again."

The email was forwarded to students on Monday 11th March. The student wrote that he was "leading a team working on Consent a mobile application that allows for others to quickly verify their consent prior to sexual activities" and that, with the help of a mobile app developer, "we can fights [sic] the ever growing fear for men to be sued post intercourse due to consent not being recorded/denied/retracted the life destroying ramifications that follow - as well as allowing for a clear opportunity if the other, for instance female, does not wish to continue in the act - and leaves out the lack of communication which is responsible for the destruction of thousands of lives every year".

"We're in need of a mobile app developer, and we're really hoping you were able to forward this opportunity, in return for equity in our company, to computer science personnel."

Responding to the Irish Times, the student stated that he had received 26 responses to his email. “Out of the 26 responses, we got 24 positive, two misinterpreted it. Perhaps my wording was very flawed and misleading on the primary email,” he said.

The app idea would “not change the legal rights of an individual” but rather would establish/record then onset of consent, the student said. “The very instant I feel this app would be doing harm, I will be the first to terminate it”.

Posting on twitter, UCDSU Gender Equality Officer Jade Wilson stated that they were "quite appalled" and described the app as "disturbing". Wilson asked whether UCD and the School of Medicine would investigate the issue.

The revelation has come as UCD Students' Union continues to promote the It Stops Now campaign on campus, which aims to "prevent and combat sexual violence and harassment (SVH) and build a culture of zero tolerance in third-level education throughout Europe." Last week, Union officers erected posters along the concourse outside the James Joyce Library to promote the campaign.

A legal definition of consent was introduced in The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, which amended The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006. The law states that “a person consents to a sexual act if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act”.

In some circumstances, the law does not permit consent to be given, including when a person is asleep or unconscious, when 'consent' is obtained under force or the threat of force, or while a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs. The law notes that the list is not exhaustive and “does not limit the circumstances in which it may be established that a person did not consent to a sexual act”.

Apps which purport to show that a person had consented to engage in sexual activity have been developed before. Google Play's app platform hosts a number of the applications such as 'Consentsy - Sexual Consent', which offers users consent "in just 3 clicks", and 'The Consent App' which is described as a "platform to easily store sexual consent documentation between adults".

The email has drawn the attention of national press who have contacted university and Union officials for comment.

UCDSU and the UCD School of Medicine was contacted for comment but has not responded at the time of publication.