The idea for this came to me on the weekend when I was running past TRIUMF. One of the perks of living in Vancouver is you can run through a beautiful, moss-soaked coastal temperate rainforest—the kind of place that makes you think Yoga should be lurking nearby—and then emerge next to a particle accelerator.
I’ve railed against notifications before. Some aren’t so bad; I usually want to know about incoming text messages (unless it’s my son demanding clarification and amendment of the household Minecraft rules). But most of them are so awful it’s an affront that the apps have the audacity to ask permission to send them.
I’m happy to report the situation has become incrementally better on my devices. That’s mainly because I’ve developed the habit of automatically refusing any app’s request to deliver the little time-and-attention vampires.
And I don’t just tap “No” when Super Beer Pong Ultra Pro demands the right to get my attention at any time. (God forbid I should miss “Daily challenge! Tap repeatedly on something and get a small piece of imaginary currency! This is certainly not a behavioural experiment being conducted on humanity by aliens!”). I stab at that button with the Index Finger of Righteousness while bellowing “No, screw you!”
This, on reflection, is probably why they won’t let me bring my phone into my daughter’s performances at school concerts any more.
Gather round, kids, and I’ll tell you a tale of a time when you had to haul your ass to the bank before they closed if you wanted to make a deposit or get some cash for the weekend, a time without a single debit card, ATM or banking app. (I think I may base a young-adult dystopian science fiction novel in that universe.)
But why would you bank at a bank if you could bank at a credit union instead? And why would you bank at just any credit union if you could bank at Vancity, home of William Azaroff, their VP of Community Investment?
William was one of our first clients during my Social Signal days. He’s a friend and a true visionary, and today’s cartoon goes out to him.
(Never heard of the Konami Code? Here y’go.)
This cartoon came about because I came across one app too many asking for outrageous access and permissions: see my contacts, tweet on my behalf… stuff that’s becoming numbingly routine, but which the app really has no need for.
I know the platforms often don’t make it easy, but I’d love developers to go beyond just saying they want this access; tell me what you’ll do with it. Are you going to store my list of contacts locally and offer to autocomplete names as I enter them? That might be cool. Are you going to email everyone I know each time I defeat a level boss in Avatar Vs. My Little Pony? Not so cool.
And I’d like fewer vampires and more houseguests. Invite a vampire into your house once, and that permission’s apparently irrevocable (or so a lot of late-night movies would have me believe). But a houseguest has to ask permission every time they drop in, and that’s what I’d like to be able to opt for with some apps. One example: I’d like to require a passcode entry before enabling Facebook and Twitter “integration” on kids’ games, so my little ones can’t gunk up my updates (and your news feeds) with useless status updates unless I say so.
One last thought about the cartoon: what are the chances there are already apps out there performing surreptitious surveillance? Or maybe, what are the chances there aren’t?
This is the bonus cartoon I promised after folks kindly pushed the Noise to Signal Facebook Page past the magic 2,000-Like mark. (That may seem like an arbitrary number, but it really isn’t. I’m now officially entitled to a friendly nod and a “S’up?” from Mark Zuckerberg if we ever walk by each other.)
Unfortunately, it’s late, because the server crashed under mysterious circumstances. I choose that wording deliberately, because it suggests the involvement of nefarious forces, which has more cachet than “I have no idea why this is broken; maybe some disk corruption or a squirrel got into the datacenter.”
Now, however, I have resurrected the server (with lots of encouragement from the good folks at Linode!), so we’re back up and running. Better yet, we’ve made the leap from Ubuntu’s Karmic Koala to Raring Ringtail, completely bypassing Maverick Meerkat, Tempestuous Tapeworm, Obsequious Okapi and Passive-Aggressive Porpoise.
What will this mean to you? Well, other than a possible Funny Ubuntu Animals cartoon in the offing, maybe nothing. Or maybe it will mean shorter load times and an undefinable yet undeniable sense of well-being. Let me know.
I like to think of the apps I load on my mobile devices as guests I’ve invited over. I want them to be themselves, relax, chat… but I also want them to have some level of respect for the place.
I don’t expect to find them looking through my underwear drawer.
But some apps do just that. (Provided you’re willing to accept “underwear” as a metaphor for your address book.) The moment you head to the kitchen to whip up a plate of cheese and crackers, they’re peeking into your medicine cabinet, flipping through your diary or perusing that photo album of awkwardly-posed boudoir shots you’d swear you’d hidden at the back of the bedroom closet.
App vendors will tell you (as they nervously scrunch and unscrunch your “Incredible Hunk” mini briefs) that they’re just trying to be helpful. And they would never, never use this information that they’ve just sent back unencrypted to their servers for anything except improving your user experience. Possibly also for a funny skit they’re doing for next week’s we-just-got-our-first-round-of-funding party. Did you notice your underwear is now sorted by texture? Isn’t that helpful?
And in the vast majority of cases, I think developers actually are trying to be helpful. They’ve had a cool idea, something that could be useful, and they can implement it with just a few lines of code. When most of your job involves seeing data in terms of its structures and relationships, it’s easy to miss the question of how that data’s owner feels about it.
Of course, there are vendors whose motives aren’t nearly as pure, and involve aggregate data mining (in the mountain-top-removal sense of “mining”) at best.
The point is, get out of my underwear drawer. Unless I’ve explicitly invited you over for that purpose, and believe me, it’s a very select few guests who fall into that category. (They’re the ones who get the good cheese and crackers.)