Apps: they so badly want to be your best friend. But as with that classmate at school who always had tempting sweets to share, you sometimes are bribed into hanging out together, even though there’s something unsettling and – you suspect – deceptive about them.
I don’t really like apps. Yes, I use a few, because they lure me in with the digital equivalent of a KitKat, speaking to me in my weaker moments. But there isn’t a single app on my tablet or phone that I don’t resent or mistrust.
To give one example: why can apps override my settings for sounds and alerts on my devices? I’ll bet you didn’t even realise it.
Sometimes this appalling truth is only revealed in a moment of humiliation and horror, as an alarm sound begins to chime in a pocket or handbag in the quietest moment of a concert, a wedding or, worst of all, a funeral.
You likely even have berated yourself for somehow, accidentally forgetting to switch your phone to flight mode or to flick the volume off. You probably assumed what anyone with a pulse would assume – that if you’d turned the sound off, the sound was OFF. A phone continuing to make noise must be your own fault.
But oh no, not in the sneaky little world of apps (or, equally annoying, some built-in services on your phone). Take that running app you use now and then, the one that has the voice coach option that counts down to the start of a run and then tells you when you’ve reached each fresh kilometre. The one that links to your music library so that you can play those 1980s New Romantics classics which are your guilty running pleasure (because No One Needs To Know).
I am here to tell you that if you are sitting in a large conference audience and switch your phone to silent and then somehow accidentally tap the running app as you tuck your phone away into what you believe is the silent nest of your handbag, everybody around you will suddenly hear a tinny woman's voice counting backwards from 10 and then the unmistakable sound of Duran Duran singing Rio.
I fully understand why your first thought is likely to be, why oh why couldn’t it have been something with a reasonable amount of street cred, say Human League or Soft Cell, emerging from amidst the stale Polo mints and tissue packets?
But really, your ire should be directed at the lamentable app that thinks it is more important than your deliberate decision to demand silence from your phone.
I fully understand why one of the many alarm clock apps – or your phone’s own alarm feature – should override the various silent modes for your phone. You do want to be woken by the alarm in the morning even if the phone was switched to night-time silent mode to block calls and alerts interrupting your sleep.
But for any other form of phone-emitted noise, silent should mean silent. Especially as we all know how frustratingly easy it is to start an app up on a touchscreen without intending to (or for that matter, to ring without meaning to). Not least as some people (I won’t name you individually, but you know who you are) seem incapable of remembering to lock their phone before putting it away, thus re-ringing me moments after we’ve just spoken.
Mind you, I once thought I’d hit the journalistic scoop jackpot when a very senior politician accidentally rang me in this way on a night when the whole country knew that major cabinet-level crisis negotiations were under way.
At first, I thought (well, hoped) it might be a deliberate attempt to let me listen in to discussions. But try as I might, all I could hear were the very muffled sounds of what was, obviously, a heated debate.
Anyway. Apps. I haven’t even started on what I hate most about them – that so many DO deliberately lie to you. Quite a few studies, as well as journalists’ investigations, have revealed that an alarming number of apps and app vendors do things with your personal data that you never gave them permission to do.
Often, this is not just because they made asking for your consent a thoroughly opaque opt-out process, but because they never told you what they were going to do with your data in the first place, even when legally required to do so.
Surely, users of apps shouldn't have to face these tricks in order to get the treats. And surely, those who control the app platforms – Apple and Google – should not allow app developers to override settings we have chosen on our own phones.