It seems like these days one can get anything through a smartphone. One can get a loan, pay for food in a supermarket and rent a car, all through easy-to-use apps. Now, a new type of app means that one can even get people through a phone.
These apps say that you can rent people to have dinner with you, catch a movie or even simply hang out.
As convenient as it sounds, it has been reported that such platforms have been used by sex workers, and that it is difficult for the authorities to supervise these apps as they are peer-to-peer (P2P)
"I just want to try for fun, but no one has rented me yet," a Hubei Province resident and user of Lai Zu Wo Ba (Come Rent Me), a WeChat-based people-renting platform told the Global Times.
In order to get rented, one first needs to register. Besides handing over basic information like gender, phone number and sexual orientation, one can add tags like "handsome," "cute," "long legs" or even "big breasts."
Then one makes it clear what one is interested in doing, from eating dinner with someone to cleaning their house.
The hourly rental price can reach over 1,000 yuan (4.4), but most people can only get 50-200 yuan.
Some platforms, like Zu Wo Me (Rent Me), also require users to upload pictures of their identity cards in order to verify their identity, after which the users will be "on the shelf."
"To increase the possibility of being rented, usually we also recommend users modify their profile pictures with photo-beautifying apps," a customer-service staff member of Wo Yao Zu Ren (I Want to Rent People) told the Global Times.
A new need
"Would like to find someone to watch a movie and have dinner with me," a 23-year-old woman posted in a people-renting platform.
"I've been feeling bad recently, I want to find someone to make me happy," another user said.
"Renting people is a new thing which reflects that people's needs are becoming more diverse and that businesses even exploit young people's emotions," Hu Xingdou, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology told the Global Times.
People-renting services may have grown out of the practice of renting temporary boyfriends or girlfriends during Spring Festival, a step taken by some single people that want to avoid being nagged by their parents during the holiday, thepaper.cn reported on April 27.
Meanwhile, as social contact through apps is efficient and casual, it has become common for young people to mediate their social lives in this way, said Gao Yuan, a Shenyang-based lawyer that specializes in issues related to the Internet.
"Many people today are facing a 'stranger society,' in which they meet strangers and only know them for a short time, not building long-term stable relationships in this mobile society. So people-renting apps can cut the costs of making friends," Hu said.
Problems and supervision
"Renting people is not illegal in China, because it just one person hiring another one to perform some task with a contract," said Gao.
However, thepaper.cn report said that when they looked at the profiles of 10 random women on a people-renting platform, four of them were offering sex for between 2,000 and 3,000 yuan. One of the women also said she could introduce other sex workers to app users.
In such platforms, sex-work related posts are common.
"Rent a woman, contact me if you were interested," posted a user from Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province on a people-renting platform.
"You are lonely and I am alone, 150 yuan a day," a user said.
According to the staff of Wo Yao Zu Ren, users are able to report illegal sex work, but they rarely do.
On one hand, online social networks should obey the Self-disciplinary Convention on the Network issued in 2005; on the other hand, public security and Internet supervision departments should cooperate to investigate and deal with the online sex trade, Zhou Hao, a lawyer from the Beijing-based Jia An Law Office told the Global Times.
"Sometimes, it is hard to find and distinguish which phrases are sex-work related or not as people may use innuendo to cover their real intentions," Zhou said.
"In government supervision, it is very difficult to find evidence of the sex trade buried in these apps and platforms, because they are P2P, which allow users to contact each other directly without others supervising them," Hu said.