Sometimes, the best app is the web browser

Posted on November 28, 2014
Tags: site web apps

Tim Lavoie

I’m not sure who pointed it out, though I want to think it was Jamie Zawinski. Fundamentally, many apps for mobile devices are simply specialized ways to access a web site. Usually the hook provided is one of a better “experience”, typically in being a bit faster or something of that nature. The problem stated was that these new apps didn’t really provide any value for the end user, but rather served only to provide another crappy, non-standard interface to yet another site.

This has come to a head in recent days, though is hardly a new problem overall. Twitter has announced that it is about to roll out an opt-out feature, where it’ll provide more relevant ads based on information such as other apps you have installed on your phone. Facebook is doing much the same with apps now too, so that ads can be targeted based on what you do on and off Facebook. No, you haven’t mis-read that part. Just like Twitter, you can go out of your way to ask, “pretty-please-Mr-Zuckerberg, avert your eyes when I’m doing something unrelated to social media.”

These options should never be opt-out in the first place, but they are, because most people simply won’t bother. Better yet, the apps give them a ton of control over what you see, and the methods to might use to control your own information. LinkedIn caught flak for this a while back too, because they felt free to help themselves to our contacts via their app. Uber hasn’t managed to find enough ways to shoot themselves in the foot lately, so they’re up to mischief as well.

This brings me to the root of the problem here. Not only are these mobile apps just shitty ways to view web sites, but they have more access to our devices than a mere web page. We are used to treating the web as often-hostile, and browsers’ developers have started to include privacy features because we demand them. Site-viewing apps are written by the sites themselves, and yours is not the best interest they’re working for. Maybe it’s faster, but the key point is that there is strong interest in slurping up whatever data your phone will let them.

LinkedIn got my contacts ages ago, and while I still glove-up to view their site and bathe after, their app is now long, long gone. I do get asked to add someone as a contact, by the name they’re under in my phone, because they stole that info. Perhaps you want to continue using these sticky-fingered sites too for the friend updates and cat videos, but consider just uninstalling those apps and using your browser. You’ll get a level of control that way, and they won’t be able to add new “features” next month to take something else without asking.