If you’re like me, you hate the idea of making needless decisions, of wasting time, of debating things that could be presented as “options,” but are really only going to be decided only one way. I mean no one asks, “Would you like to breathe oxygen today?” Somethings can be presented as options, but sometimes there is only one real choice.
When I typed in craigslist.org tonight in my address bar, I wasn’t directed to the page I wanted. Their site (from memory) used to default to sfbay.craigslist.org, the home of the site that caters to the SF Bay Area, where I currently reside. It was incredibly handy for me, being able to type in the address bar and instantly, get the URL that I wanted. The solution to map an IP address to a given location is very well known, and major websites have been doing this for years. Google does it with their search results, your mobile phone does the same, sometimes with explicit call out, “The app name would like to use your present location, allow?” And then of course you click yes. The odd thing is, websites have never asked for that kind of permission, so the notion of a mobile device, again using the internet, specifically telling you what it’s about to do is odd to say the least, and a waste of people’s time. Okay, let me clarify. Anything that violates my privacy needs to ask me permission first, but websites that currently do not ask for permission to cater to my needs at a certain level should not ask me redundant questions on my mobile. Privacy pundits may say that somehow not asking permission is a bad thing, but I have never seen Google or Craigslist, or Yahoo, ask for my permission to do a simple geo look up on the computer I’m using to pinpoint my location, so that they can give me the information I’m looking for. Of course I would want them to ask my permission if they were going to broadcast that to anyone but if it’s just to serve me the right data, I’m all for it.
So why do so many mobile devices prompt you to make a decision that, for the last decade, you never were allowed to opt out of?
For some, the issue might come down to the relationship a mobile phone has with your data. Others might claim that because you have paid for so many things, and could pay for more because the phone stores your credit card info, etc that there is a greater security risk – a smaller object is more easily lost than a larger one, right? I think the real reason mobile phones offer the ability to say, “Use / deny,” location comes down to an attempt to make the phone look more choice, more personal, than your laptop computer experience. It says a lot more about who you are, for a lot less money, you can customize a lot more things – and the number of apps is growing faster for your mobile than the number of similarly cheap, easy and compatible pieces of software for your laptop computer. Given this paradigm shift, it could be an innocent mistake, prompting people to allow what, on the laptop, is an area of no choice and a default only experience.
It could be that Apple, love their products though I do, has a sinister motive in allowing people to choose, knowing that while most will click, “Yes,” a handful will click no. The result at enough scale would be to prevent Google from delivering against their mission, which is to give you the most relevant results based on what they know about your intent when you search. Put in this perspective, the move to announce Siri and the iPhone voice integration seems like a clear end run around Google’s core business, a bold business move, a challenge to the incumbent business to do an end run straight to disruption.
For what it’s worth, I always click, “Yes,” when I’m searching. But given Google’s recent privacy scandal, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, about circumventing Apple’s own privacy safeguards to collect people’s data, maybe Apple is right to force a decision that, on the normal, decades old desktop internet was never an option for people. If you have been online long enough, this is very similar to AOL, when they used proxy servers to pull in web content, which prevent others, like Google or Yahoo, to identify where the AOL traffic was coming from or being able to tell how large their user base was, because so many people came in off of the same IP address. As they say, history repeats itself but in the long run, I believe those companies that focus on adding value to customers, rather than those which choose to artificially block or limit data, are much more useful. These days even one extra second to read a notice is valuable time, so I don’t like my moment being wasted with unnecessary questions.