Mobile Apps Are Scary

In 2006 I wrote about how the fear of installing desktop software accelerated the move to the web. Security warnings, firewall alerts and antivirus popups made installing software feel like an incredibly risky thing to do.

We’re seeing a similar situation with mobile apps now. The seemingly simple act of installing an app requires you to first approve a scary list of permissions, and while some may approve them the same way they dismiss a EULA, others find them daunting. Add to that the spammy notifications and addiction-feeding of popular games plus the privacy violations of popular social apps, and it feels like I’m watching a rerun from eight years ago.

If this trend continues, the whole debate about mobile apps vs. web apps will be pointless: users will feel safer with web apps so that’s what they’ll choose, and developers will follow.

3 thoughts on “Mobile Apps Are Scary

  1. The problem is the mobile OS itself (Android, iOS, Windows Phone,…)
    Running a rooted Android with CyanogenMod 11 I am not scared at all because I have excellent privacy settings that restrict the app’s permission after I installed them. Then there’s a firewall that lets me cut internet access for apps that don’t need it (torchlight, push-ups, etc).

    As long as the OS manufacturers let the users alone with restricted rights the situation will not get better. Image Microsoft would ship Windows without administrator rights; that’s excactly what Google and Apple do.

    1. Yes, and in 2006 you could install a Linux distribution and have all that control, yet I don’t see how that fixed the problem for 99% of the users.

      Permissions was one of the things I disliked in Android since you can’t even install the app if you disagree with one of them. On iOS you can at least deny specific things like location or access to the camera, but still use the app. But that has also led to ridiculous situations when you get 3 or 4 different permission prompts the first time you launch the app, sometimes with pre-permissions dialogs.

  2. “Security warnings, firewall alerts and antivirus popups made installing software feel like an incredibly risky thing to do.”

    …on Microsoft Windows.

    Now there are new fears with web applications (especially vs desktop software):

    Privacy invasion/tracking by governments, corporations, and/or black hats
    Data theft
    Data loss/inaccessibility from servers being down/DDoSed, or network outages
    Services being discontinued from companies going out of business or being bought out
    Feature loss or unpleasant changes from a website “revamp”
    Cyber stalking and/or bullying
    And being spammed by ads, which may even include objectionable content that you’re not going to know about until it appears in front of your face

    There’s nothing “magic” about web apps that makes them inherently less scary than mobile apps or desktop apps. There’s just different things to be afraid of.

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