Lab Notes

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iOS Privacy Permissions Suck

9/01/13 9 January, 2013 0 Comments 0 notes

Being in the app business, every person and their cousin likes to throw “Why isn’t [INSERT APP] working?” at me on a daily basis.  That’s when they aren’t pitching app ideas, which 9 times out of 10 results in me politely showing them how to search the app store.

Over the last year I’ve noticed that the vast majority of this app just doesn’t work any more situations are all because of the same thing: privacy settings. Last year, Apple added granular privacy settings for allowing apps to access the address book, photos, calendars etc. This is obviously much better for customers and less responsibility for Apple when something goes awry (sorry Path).  There is one major problem though, and that is the way these permissions are communicated to the customer.  That aspect sucks.

As an example, here is what happens when you install Instagram for the first time:


Here is what people do when they see it:

  1. Shit!  One of those blue things, Don’t Allow!  DON’T ALLOW!
  2. Um, fuck off Instagram, I’m keeping my own damn photos! And what happens next?

The app is “broken” and the customer has no idea why.  If you’re lucky (like with Instagram), you’ll get a nice set of instructions explaining you’ll have to go back into your device settings and alter the privacy controls, which is a costly user experience from hitting the wrong answer on the privacy dialog.  Most of the time though, it’ll just seem broken. 

Privacy controls are a necessary evil but they suffer from their own existence.  If a photo sharing app never asked for permission, most people would probably never even consider that it was accessing their photos and just go about their merry way.  As soon as the question is asked, people assume there must be some inherent evil going on and are naturally biased towards the safe option - “Don’t Allow”.

There is no easy answer but the issue here is communication.  What the customer seems to think is being asked is “Can Instagram take my photos and share them with everyone I’ve ever met, especially the filthy ones”.  It’s framed in the context of the app company doing something with your photos.  Really, it needs to be framed in the context of what you will be able to do via the app, if you provide permission.

Something more like: 

Would you like to be able to use your photos in Instagram?
This will allow you to share photos you choose and save photos onto your iPhone. Nothing will be shared without your permission.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the wording in the iOS initial setup. The amount of people who say “my maps have just never worked” because they hit “No” to location services…that’s for another time.