Why I am not installing your app on my phone

June 15, 2017

For reasons beyond the scope of this entry, I spent a decent chunk of time today using my phone to amuse myself. Part of that time was reading Twitter, and part of that reading involved following links to interesting articles on various places. Quite a number of those places wanted me to install their iPhone app instead of reading things on their website, and some of them were quite obnoxious about it. For example, Medium sticks a prominent non-dismissable button in the middle of the bottom of the screen, effectively shrinking an already-too-small screen that much further.

Did I install any of the apps that these websites wanted me to? Of course not. This is not because my phone has only limited space, and it's not really because I prefer keeping my phone uncluttered. There's a much more fundamental reason: I don't trust your app. In fact, I assume that almost all apps that websites want me to use instead of reading the site are actually trojan horses.

By this, I don't mean that I expect any of these apps to quietly attack the security of my phone and attempt to compromise it (although I wouldn't take that bet on Android). I don't even necessarily expect all of these apps to demand intrusive device permissions, like constant access to location services (although I suspect that a lot of them will at least ask for lots of permissions, because maybe I'll be foolish enough to agree). I do definitely expect that all of these apps will put their app nature to 'good' use in order to spy on, track, and monetize my in-app activity to a much larger extent than their websites can. Any potential improvement in my user experience over just reading the website is incidental to their actual reason for existing, which is why they're trojan horses.

So no, I will not install your app, because I trust Apple and Safari to do a lot more to preserve my privacy against your website and your spying on me than I trust you. Safari allows various sorts of (ad)blockers, it allows me to totally discard cookies and other tracking identification that websites have foisted off on me, and in general I trust Apple to be pretty carefully restrictive of what it allows websites to do with JavaScript and what information they can get. Your app? I have no such trust; in fact I expect the exact reverse of trust.

There is nothing particularly surprising here, of course. This is simply the inevitable result of the business model of these websites. I'm not their customer, although they may pretend otherwise; instead, I am part of the product, to be packed up and sold off to advertisers. Trying to get me to accept the app is part of fattening me up for their actual customers.

(This is a bit of a grumpy rant, because I got sick and tired of all the 'install our app, really' badgering from various places, especially when it makes their websites less usable. Some of the time these nags encouraged me to close the page as not sufficiently fascinating, which may or may not have been a win for the websites in question.)

Written on 15 June 2017.
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Last modified: Thu Jun 15 01:05:50 2017
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