Sinlung /
27 September 2013

This App Could Get You Kidnapped

By Lex Berko

The app bubble has somehow yet to burst and everyday more start-ups emerge hawking their mobile services. Some of these are useful, like the crowd-sourced navigation tool Waze and the language instruction app Duolingo. Others are not-so-useful, like the much maligned and very confused LeftoverSwap.

Now there’s even an app for kidnapping. Voluntarily kidnapping, more specifically.

When I stumbled upon kidnApp for the first time yesterday, I couldn’t immediately tell if it was a bizarre new startup or a marketing ploy hoping to go viral. I’ve heard of voluntary abductions before and even have a friend who participated in one, so I’m not totally unfamiliar with the concept. But the idea of an app whereby these experiences can be accessed very easily seemed unreal.

According to the, kidnApp is both an app and a social network. Members who wish to be kidnapped are called Waiters and pay $4.99 per month for the privilege of scheduling their own abductions. The kidnappers are called Takers. Waiters and Takers alike have public profiles and can be followed, as you would on Facebook or Twitter, by fellow members.

To find out more about kidnApp, I reached out to the contact email on the site, which led me to Justin Sirois. Justin is the author of a series of books called So Say the Waiters, in which a fictional version of kidnApp plays a central role in the plot. The story is currently optioned for television and the kidnApp website was, as I suspected, initially intended to be an advertising gimmick.

However, Justin is having second thoughts about confining kidnApp to the realm of fiction. Over a series of emails, I chatted with him and his television producer, who wanted only to be known by the pseudonym McCaslin, about the app and what we may see if it ever makes the jump from the page to your smartphone.

MOTHERBOARD: First of all, is this for real?
Justin Sirois: Right now, the app isn’t real, but we are open to anyone who might want to help us create it. I guess the only thing stopping us would be the financing and then the legality of it. An app like kidnApp would require lawyer fees.

I’m surprised it hasn’t been tried already though. The infrastructure exists already: just take Grindr and apply kidnApping to it, right?

Can you give me a brief synopsis of So Say the Waiters and how this app connects to the book?
Justin: The series is about an app and social network that allows people (Waiters) to submit their own kidnAppings. They can literally disappear themselves for an hour or three days. The books follow two main characters: Henry, a sort of conservative IT guy who is hired by the company, and Dani, a young bartender who has been getting kidnApped for about a year. Throughout the series, they partner up, in secret, as a kidnApping pair.

The app’s history and origin are revealed slowly throughout the series as smaller characters move into the spotlight. As some Takers become celebrities in the network, you can see how alluring the abuse of power becomes.

Was kidnApp supposed to be solely a marketing tool or do you intend to follow through with it?
Justin: The app site is definitely in a very early Beta form. We’ve had so much positive feedback from the site that it’s hard not entertaining the idea of creating the app. We’ve had so many people contact us asking if it’s already real and where they can get it. Hell, it already feels feel. Fiction or not, the app and site will give us a lot of flexibility to tell the story.

McCaslin: kidnApp was initially created as a marketing tool for the book, certainly. But as we started to explore the possibilities of adapting the book into a television series, we realized that it could develop even more. We see it becoming a two-way street of communication between the
readers/viewers and the creators. People can write in about their dream take scnearios, they can leave feedback, and then we can leak out story elements, casting information, cast bios, possible plot twists, trailers, omitted scenes, etc.

How seriously have you considered following through on it?

McCaslin: More seriously now than a month ago. The majority of our visitors have asked when we will be up and running. I would say about 65 percent are interested in actually becoming Waiters, 10 percent have inquired about our application process for becoming Takers. The rest are a mixed bag of comments from people who think we are out of our minds and others who simply loved the books.
Justin: If I can quit my day job and run kidnApp for a living, then why not? It’s been both fun and enlightening getting submissions from people. How else would I have learned about “recreational prisons” in Arizona? That’s definitely not the direction kidnApp would go in, but it shows we have a wide range of people interested in the app.

What are some of the legal concerns that you imagine might pop up with an app like this?
McCaslin: Our biggest concern would be with copycat scenarios or imposters posing as being from kidnApp when in fact they are not. Real crimes could be committed and it would be an easy thing to point the finger at us. However, the police, victim, and kidnapper would have to prove it was us. Every take would be submitted through the app and would be easily traceable. The Takers would only know a small amount of information about the Waiters. And only the Administrators know both sides. It is very controlled.

Justin: The terms and conditions would clearly state that kidnApp is a recreational service. Vetting Takers would be very important too, but I think once a Taker has a few good reviews and a bunch of followers, Waiters would be more apt to trust that Taker.

Ridesharing apps, like Lyft and Uber, have faced criticism over the creepiness of some of their drivers, all of whom they tout as having been thoroughly background checked. Wouldn’t this be an even bigger problem with something like kidnApp, because people are in a far more vulnerable position?

McCaslin: Yes, there is a creepiness factor involved. But we have to think about the people who are submitting to being taken. They are looking for a certain type of experience. Vulnerability, endorphins, and the unknowns are all part of that experience. Our database of information will pair Waiters with the right Takers. What we intend on building is similar to how dating sites work, cross referencing multiple elements to find the right match. The major difference is that our Takers are “in house” and not some random people off the street. One side, our side, is controlled, whereas a dating site has two uncontrolled sides.

Justin: Transparency is key here. In the books, kidnApp is very much like Facebook in the way that all Takers are public. You can read their profiles and “follow” them. The more positive reviews the Taker has, the more popular they are. So that does take a lot of the creepiness out of the experience. If you know who is coming for you and other Waiters have vouched for that person, then you’re safe.

Is the kidnApping always a sexual experience? Or can you just be taken and do whatever for however long?

Justin: kidnApping can be whatever you want it to be. That’s the magic of it. We aren’t interested in the sexuality of the experience; we want to create an ever-present tension and a life-altering event. All of a sudden, you have a portal—your phone, the app—in your pocket. Use it to disappear.
All images courtesy of Justin Sirois.


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