Mobile dollars to donuts

Last Sunday’s New York Times included this article about the addictive nature of mobile apps, and the irresistible pressure to use mobile apps and services that are ever more intrusive and require ever more personal data. Specifically, Claire Cain Miller is concerned about Google Now, a new predictive search service that apparently promises to tell you what you need to know even before you thought you needed to know it.

Miller describes the arrogance of Google engineers (“…We’re just building the dream, and clearly users will have to get comfortable with it.”), and identifies a real potential problem with apps like Now: (“They give too much information to advertisers or the government, people fear, and eliminate the unpredictability of human existence.”).

Despite these serious issues, Miller finds Google Now to be first creepy, then considerate, then a trusted part of her daily life. So where’s the problem? Despite Miller’s happiness with this new tool, she still claims to be concerned that Google engineers (and presumably others in the Valley of Silicon) are not thinking enough about the “moral and privacy implications” of apps like these, and wishes that they would “fully engage with all of (technology’s) messy human implications.”

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Good luck. Google writes addictive, intrusive apps for the same reason that Krispy Kreme makes yummy donuts; they’re doing what they know how to do best in order to make lots of money for their employees and shareholders. I don’t expect that Krispy Kreme managers are that concerned either with the “messy human implications” of freshly baked donuts

It’s up to us as consumers to deal with those human implications through our actions. If you find a new app creepy, don’t use it. If you want to manage your diet, don’t eat donuts. True, this is hard and often not pleasant, but it is the most effective way to encourage those companies to change.

For all their talk about managing the world’s information and serving the greater good, Google, like other tech (and donut) companies, are public corporations driven primarily by revenues and profits, and by consumer reaction to their products. If customers don’t buy and use Google’s stuff, Google will have to stop making that stuff, and work on other (better, one hopes) stuff to please them.

Photo by Back to the Cutting Board from flickr