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A few weeks ago I send myself an email. Because oddly it’s still the easiest way to move individual files from one device to another. I send it without subject or content, just the attachment. A few seconds later the email hits my tablet but I can see even without opening the email that there’s content.
What’s this, then?
Opening the email I find that my antivirus attached a signature at the end of my email advertising itself. “This email was scanned by Avast Antivirus and is safe!” or some similar foolishness. Of course, never having authorized the program to attach signatures to my email I was more than a little curious and annoyed. Digging into the program I found that since I had updated the program engine that day it added a function to attach its own signature to my emails and then automatically opted me in without so much as a courtesy notification. This kind of thing, of course, is not the way legitimate software acts. This is the stink of malware. So I abandoned the antivirus I’ve used and recommended for years and wondered just what the hell they were thinking.
Avast’s egregious fuckery falls into place with a dynamic that’s seized the technology world and undone decades of careful work: put simply, it’s a war on users. User loyalty is no longer a prominent dynamic, nor is usability. Nearly every service I use now puts things in between me and what I want to get done. Apple’s Music app reworked the user interface to advertise its own junk before you could actually get to a place to play your music that you had on your device. Google Play Music now does the same thing, spawning me into the “Listen” screen where they want me to buy their streaming service. It takes me an extra few clicks to just get to my damn MP3s. Twitter’s begun destroying its own usability by displaying tweets out of chronological order in timelines.
There is a war on users and what suffers is not only our productivity and efficiency but really the enjoyability of the platforms pulling these shenanigans. I shouldn’t have to paw through three different screens just to get to the music I bought through your app. I know you have new streaming services or some exclusive concert you’d like me to listen to. I don’t care. We spent three decades perfecting user interfaces according to User Experience (UX) guidelines – make things simpler, easier, faster. And we’ve undone that in the span of three years just to badger people into buying extra crap.
I had a nightmare once that coin-operated video game arcades never existed as we know them (and I have fond, fond memories of spending hours in Hampton Beach arcades feeding in quarter after quarter). In the nightmare you only got to the games after watching a revenue-generating advertisement and then passing through a series of screens “offering” extra paid services of the arcade. We got what we paid for but only after we saw what they wanted – and we all accepted it.
The war on users goes beyond UI and UX considerations. It’s obstructionist product placement. Word-of-mouth is no longer the goal for these services. They demand captive ears and eyes. And short of building our own platforms we suffer at their whims.
This is the future. Things should be getting easier for us, right?