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

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Mobile Moo

I love stories like this one from the New York Times, which starts: “When Christian Oesch was a boy on his family’s hog farm, cellphones were a thing of the future. Now, Mr. Oesch tends a herd of dairy cattle and carries a smartphone wherever he goes. Occasionally he gets an SMS from one of his cows.”

Yes, cows. Swiss engineers have developed a sensor for cows that detects when they go into heat, sending an appropriate SMS about the event to the cow’s owner. This makes it easier for farmers to plan when to (as the article describes) “bring on the bull or, in about 80 percent of the cases these days, the artificial inseminator.”

What I’ve always found exciting about mobile technology is its potential to change how we live and work. Much of the mobile-related news I read, however, seems to focus on mobile devices as just one more content, entertainment, and advertising platform, not much more than a portable TV (with GPS). Of course that’s important (and profitable), but mobile devices have the potential to be so much more than that. This is why I’m excited to read about innovations like this. Here’s a solution that that truly takes advantage of the unique features of mobile devices and mobile networks to solve existing problems in ways that were previously impossible.

I’d love to hear about other solutions that use mobile tech in creative and useful ways.

Photo by publicenergy from flickr