Paranoia vs. Convenience

How does someone balance paranoia and convenience in the technological world of today? Macstories recently reviewed Notifyr, an app that forwards push notifications from iOS to OS X. This is a genius application that solves a lot of issues for people who spend a lot of time on a Mac and put their phone somewhere else either on purpose or accident. But this means that this application somehow has access to every push notification that comes through1. There is no reason to automatically suspect something nefarious is going on here. But the developer is a 17-year-old from the Netherlands as opposed to a company that has been creating reputable software for years.

TUAW also recently reviewed an app, Marco Polo, which is used to help find a misplaced iPhone. Essentially a person yells “Marco”, and the phone responds “Polo” allowing the person to locate it. Another genius idea, but this means that when this app is running in the background that it is listening to the microphone all the time. So again, assuming the worst this means that this app could essentially hear everything a person says within earshot of their phone.

The Xbox One contains technology to be controlled by a person’s voice. This includes the ability to turn it on and off. But in order to turn it on with voice, it must always be listening for the command. Which means that even when it is off it would still be listening to everything that is said.

Of course none of these scenarios mean that anything bad is going on, just that there is potential for such. Most people get up in arms when Facebook changes a privacy setting, but these same people post their location all over the place, and use features similar to the ones discussed above.

How does a person find balance?

It’s difficult to completely avoid any sort of risk when using the internet. All information being sent can be intercepted one way or the other. Even encrypted data is eventually unencrypted somewhere. So where does the line get drawn?

Just like the real-life version of trust, much of it has to do with reputation. Has a company proven to have a solid track record of not abusing customer data/information and doing what it can to protect it? Target proved they don’t fit that criteria. Buying software is no different. A company like Panic has an established reputation and could be trusted if they created apps like Notifyr and Marco Polo. But when it’s indie developers, there should at least be some pause. And ultimately it comes down to risk vs. reward. If a person is constantly misplacing their iPhone then perhaps Marco Polo is a worthwhile risk, especially if that person doesn’t often have conversations they don’t care if other people hear2.

Nowadays it seems that most people prefer convenience and price above all else. The millions of people who use Gmail have proven that time and time again. If you throw caution to the wind, these two apps seem pretty awesome.

  1. Assuming they aren’t using some non-public API, I wonder how they are doing this. Does this mean that ALL iOS apps have access to push notifications from other apps? []
  2. If it isn’t clear by now, I by know means think that app developers are doing something they shouldn’t all the time, or with these specific apps, but there is always the possiblity []