BACK IN THE OLD DAYS…

In today’s world of ubiquitous technology, almost everyone knows about the concept of a software update. A long, long time ago or when I was in my late teens or early 20s, software updates were something I always looked forward to. An update meant good things. The program being updated either had new features, bug fixes, was generally faster, or some combination of these. In almost all cases, from a user perspective, you’d be missing out on something if you didn’t update your software.

In these current times, software now goes beyond a simple PC or game console. Software is now run on phones and tablets. It’s these apps that have made me wary of updates. App updates no longer are a guarantee of a better user experience. In fact, owning a smartphone and a tablet has now made me very wary of updates. In the last year, I’ve discovered that many apps should not be updated as their updates clearly do not benefit the user.

My first example involves the Hotmail app which I used on my phone. It allowed users to check multiple Hotmail and/or Live e-mail accounts in a single app on your phone or tablet. It was very convenient to have. A few months ago, an update came along and I installed it without paying too much attention. This update was not an update in a traditional sense. What it did, in fact, was disable the Hotmail app so you could not use it anymore and pointed you to the new Outlook app which replaced it. Ok, so what’s wrong with that? Well, the Outlook app initially did not support multiple e-mail accounts. So for people like me who were checking different accounts, we actually lost functionality. There was no way to uninstall the update, so I was out of luck. This is actually common amongst apps, where updates remove functionality that users previously enjoyed. Sometimes that functionality is then added as a paid service.

While the loss of functionality is bad for sure, even worse is the loss of privacy. Sometimes, app developers will provide an update that seemingly is there only to invade more of your privacy. On the Android platform, users are aware at all times what permissions an app is trying to get from you whenever you install or update the app. Sometimes I won’t even install an app after looking at its initial permissions list because they want too much access to my info. The worst, however, is when an update out of the blue wants to access info it didn’t want before. A dastardly example of this is the latest Facebook update for Android. It tried to slip in permissions to read people’s text messages. In the release notes, it said it needed to do this because it wanted to read text messages that might have been sent from Facebook itself. No, that’s not ok. How about I read the text messages from Facebook myself and I’ll pass along any codes or whatever to the Facebook app manually? It boggles my mind how many people have gone ahead and installed this update. I know this update will never get installed on my phone.

At the least on the Android platform, there is some talk of Google implementing a feature to allow users to selectively block permissions on a per-app basis. This actually exists in some non-official flavours of Android but isn’t part of the stock Android ROM just yet.

So there ya go, updates ain’t what they used to be.

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