Reading Yoav Aner’s blog this morning I’m reminded how many applications, particularly the mobile variety, have the capacity to creep us out by appropriating our personal information. Whether it’s compiling recommendations based on our usage behaviour, accessing our physical location, or trolling our contact list, the expectation is that our software experience is somehow enhanced by the unscrupulous broadcast of our personal information.
Netflix is a prime example of a service that tries way too hard with the concept of personalization. Not really creepy, just more of an annoyance.
If I happen to watch an episode of Doctor Who Netflix starts filtering my menu with list after list of science-fiction related movies and TV shows.
Because you watched… Conan the Barbarian our clever algorithms have determined you’ll be interested in seeing Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise. Really? I’m curious, what’s the logic behind these seemingly arbitrary recommendations.
Because your 7-1/2 year old son logged in under your profile and watched an episode of Transformers: Rescue Bots we think you’ll be interested in watching… The Smurfs.
Because you watched… Waiting for Lightning, the documentary covering the life of legendary skateboarder Danny Way, here’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Walking Dead, and Jack Reacher.
Here’s what’s popular on Facebook: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Walking Dead, and (surprise surprise) Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise.
Ok, Netflix really thinks I should watch Jack Reacher.
Please no. Stop it. Stop trying to learn what I’m interested in viewing. Please just allow me to search by genre (PS3 interface) and decide for myself.
In a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, Roger Cohen writes:
Everything seems filtered, monitored, marshaled, ameliorated, graded and app-ready — made into a kind of branded facsimile of experience for easier absorption. The thrill of the unexpected is lost.
The modern world’s tech-giddy control and facilitation makes us stupid. Awareness atrophies. Dumb gets dumber. Lists are everywhere — the five things you need to know about so-and-so; the eight essential qualities of such-and-such; the 11 delights of somewhere or other. We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience. These lists are meaningless.
This is a very astute observation of the modern tech-centric economy in which we’re currently living. Lists are in fact quite insidious and could be regarded as the quintessential attention-thwarting shortcut one finds permeating the digital space. Listicles as they’re sometimes called (why yes, there’s a Wikipedia entry) obliterate mental focus and encourage us to read less.
There is arguably no better way to fragment audience engagement. Create a list and people will skim rather than absorb your content.
I use Gmail almost every day and it absolutely sucks. There, I said it. It sucks. Like many people I feel like I’ve been drawn into Google’s insidious suite of cloud based wares: Drive, Calendar, Analytics, and of course Gmail.
Last week Google permanently changed the way you write emails in Gmail by ditching aspects of the old UI for good. Users like myself who preferred the old compose window and were perhaps holding out on the update were abruptly switched over to the new UI August 14 th or several days thereafter whether we liked it or not.
Ultimately though, UX design changes, as arbitrary as these seemed, can be tolerated (albeit begrudgingly) when you’ve been using an app for any length of time. Facebook does this all the time and most of us learn to live with the perpetual changes that seem to be rolled out without any rhyme or reason.
But when it comes to the contentious issue of personal privacy, in the wake of the NSA Prism surveillance revelations, Google demonstrate a bewildering lack of concern regarding the integrity of Gmail users’ security. This is clearly expressed in Google’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging Gmail’s message scanning violates California privacy laws. This, under the dubious guise of protecting users from spam while targeted ads are sent directly to your in-box.
John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, suggests Google’s data handling protocols are tantamount to the Post Office opening and reading the contents of your mail:
“Google’s brief uses a wrong-headed analogy; sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office, I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope. I don’t expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it. Similarly when I send an email, I expect it to be delivered to the intended recipient with a Gmail account based on the email address; why would I expect its content will be intercepted by Google and read?”
Google’s so-called “free” cloud based apps are in fact not free. We ultimately pay with our personal information which is arguably a far greater cost. In the case of Gmail, Google has gone on record with the rather stunning statement that Gmail users “have no legitimate expectation of privacy” when they use the service. Incredibly this also includes non Gmail users who send emails to Gmail accounts.
“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, said in a statement “People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy don’t use Gmail.”