Sharing

Path’s Address Book controversy got me thinking about sharing and privacy. Specifically, this piece by Justin Williams raises an interesting point:

Tossing up another dialog asking for user confirmation doesn’t solve the problem users are faced with. It just puts a band-aid on it. At the core is a more fundamental problem in how iOS handles permissions and access to data. Basically, I have no idea what sort of permissions or access an app wants until I download it and launch it the first time. Moreover, I really don’t to see another dialog pop up in my face as I’m using an app.

Justin is right about the App Store needing a way to inform users about privacy upfront. But I want to focus on another aspect of the story.

As the web moves forward, new technologies are implemented, and mobile devices get more ubiquitous and powerful, I believe we’re only going to see more of those dialogs. Want to share your location? Dialog. Want to match email addresses with the records on our servers? Dialog. How about we access your camera roll? Dialog. And your browsing history? You get the point.

Coming up with a dialog for confirmation every time will prove a stressful solution for developers and users over time. As Justin says, it is just a band-aid for a problem that, I think, lies deeper in our social behavior and the way we approach new technologies and trends.

As the web evolves, we’re going to share more information and different bits of data. First, it started with text updates and photos. Then videos. Then we began sharing our location. Most recently, Facebook started allowing users to share what they are listening to in real time. The increase of sharing happens, I believe, for a series of reasons. First off, companies like Facebook and Google obviously benefit from the growing amount of data at their disposal, which they can sell to advertisers. On the flip side, there is no data like more data, and some applications can work better if they know more about you – think how Zite can recommend articles based on your tastes or a weather app can automatically configure itself based on your location. But I also think that we, as human beings in this new Web era, ultimately tend towards sharing more about us because we feel the need of having our Instagrams seen and tweets read. We want people to know what we are doing. The problem is, how do we want companies like Facebook or Google to pipe this desire into a frictionless and clear social networking platform?

I don’t think associating every social or data-gathering function with a dialog box is the right way. Don’t get me wrong: being honest and transparent about privacy and data collection is a fundamental requirement, and that is not going away anytime soon. What’s going to happen when developers will figure out a way to leverage our email patterns to improve their apps? Or our App Store purchase history? Or our alarm clock settings and FaceTime call data? Will we have a dialog for each of these functionalities?

From an implementation perspective, rather than asking for a dialog every time a new functionality catches on, I believe we should also expect today’s apps to be social by design, and accept the fact that legitimate sharing has become the foundation of how we interact with each other, and with our devices.

 
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