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The tiny red dots taking over our lives (nytimes.com)
70 points by kawera 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

Here's a healthy habit: whenever an app abuses notifications, revoke its permissions to grab your attention. At a minimum, disable notifications on the lockscreen. Consider disabling banner alerts if they are too disruptive or distracting. Hide the app in a folder in a faraway screen to avoid being trapped by the little red dot badge.

I just don't install apps at all. I have a stock message app, a signal app, that's pretty much all I use for communication. No facebook, no instagram, no snapchat, no whatsapp, no slack, no bullshit. I'm sick and tired of having to find fucking "life hacks" and run through hoops to be not disturbed.

I started somewhat care less about notifications and emails and messages and whatnot. Unless people are in an urgency which I will reply, but normally I just reply whenever I am free. I'm not more productive, I just feel less attracted to the phone.

I prefer to do everything I can from my browser. I think it's silly to have apps for evey single facet of life. Every time I go to a news/shopping/etc website, it wants me to open/install their app. What is the advantage of having multiple news apps, multiple social network apps, multiple shopping apps over just using a browser?

Often the app's interface is simply better than the mobile website. If you do a lot on your phone, the extra convenience adds up.

Or it's a lot worse and missing functionality, which has been my experience the few times I gave a website app the benefit of the doubt and installed it. But they get a free ad on your app/home screen and a shot at stickier use, which is all they really care about. I too just use a browser at this point.

It isn't notifications, but.. Google has now updated Chrome on Android to constantly spam news stories at you every time you open a tab ("Stories for you"). You can't turn it off through any UI accessible to normal users.

Then don't use Chrome. Disable it. Use Firefox focus.

Firefox (not Focus) recently gave me an ad for Pocket as a notification. Mozilla continues to disappoint me.

Firefox is IMO still a better choice than Chrome on Android at this point, Firefox Sync also makes it very convenient to send pages to and from Desktop. And of course the ability to install and use Addons like uMatrix to get even basic ad- and scriptblocking

But at least it lets you remove stuff from the toolbar.

You can disable it in chrome://flags, but it is a bad precedent to not let normal users disable it.

Or Opera mobile, it's basically chrome with ad block and a different UI

Opera Mini has some awful ridiculous newsfeed on it now, too.

Yes this is annoying but at least you can easily switch it off. Also, Opera Mobile is the only remaining halfway mainstream mobile browser that still does text reflow/wrapping automatically and efficiently. Shame on Chrome in that regard as well - they had it and just dropped it. Well I guess some day those responsible will have less-than-perfect eyesight too.

Opera Mobile != Opera Mini, so far it doesn't have a news feed (or I have it disabled?)

On Android itself, this is at best difficult.

It's not supported on Vendor-locked older versions of Android, though I don't know what the present-gen device situation is.

I have absolutely zero intent to gain first-hand knowledge of said situation.

Firefox can be installed on any device that can install apk files or apps from the play store. And I'm pretty sure this has always been true. Definitely since at least the android 2.2 days.

Chrome Browser, however, cannot be uninstalled.

That was the element I was (perhaps insufficiently clearly) responding to.

I have Firefox on Android. It's a godsend. Or Mozillasend.

And this is among the many, many, many, many reasons I'm 1) nuking Android and 2) nuking Chrome from other platforms I use.

The first thing to do for any new app: go to settings and switch off all permissions.

But then you lose the benefit from the apps that don't abuse them, defeating the purpose of the above post's suggestion.

I'm not the person you're replying to, but I'd rather make the active decision that I want notifications from an app than passively deciding an app is allowed to until it annoys me.

But how do you know if the notifications are helpful if you have not seen them from a responsible app?

A large part of them can be inferred from the app's purpose. I don't need notifications from a game, pdf viewer, or photo editor, but I want them from my email client.

I don't have any notifications on the lock screen, period. And the things that get to alert on my top nav bar are few (emails and texts only).

A good rule of thumb I've read a couple days ago was: only allow notifications that come from other people. This means allow notifications for texts, emails, calls, but absolutely refuse to be badgered by a computer, e.g. a notification for a new feature in an app, or to tell you x people liked your picture, or whatever.

One gotcha here is that if you allow automated emails to go to your email address, you're letting a computer badger you. :)

From the product side, the obvious move is to lump user and computer notifications.

On the user side, what are our options?

You are perfectly describing Google's strategy with maps. Lump together traffic updates and "rate this place" (even though I didn't rate the last 100 times), to create as much all around disgust for your brand as possible.

If you have Android Oreo/8.x, most (all?) google apps (including Maps) allow you quite fine grained control over notification categories (so you can choose to have traffic updates and nothing else, if you wish)

Notification categories is not exclusive to google apps, of course (OS level feature as long as your app targets Oreo), but their apps tend to give you very good control over what it shows you.

So, I'd disagree strongly that this is a google "strategy". It's more a problem that their apps tend to have a lot of features crammed in.

Of course, I don't know how this works on iOS (I'd be surprised if it's not in the settings somewhere? It's in their interest that you don't disable all app notifications)

> So, I'd disagree strongly that this is a google "strategy". It's more a problem that their apps tend to have a lot of features crammed in.

It doesn't matter much to me if the problematic behavior arises from strategy or accident, though.

Adding the ability to turn this stuff off is good, but it should be default.

I'm not on Oreo, and they may have changed their tactics. But there was certainly no way to exercise this type of control in maps the last time I looked extensively, which was a few months ago.

Edit: They definitely have, since I have those options now.

Don't use products that do that.

This is basically what I do. I'll grant any app notification privilege, but the very first time it sends me something stupid, it gets notifications turned off completely. Unfortunately most apps hit this point quickly.

I wish more people did this. There are apps that are designed to basically always have notifications, and people reward those apps by opening them ten times a day.

Agreed kilit before it kills you

We need to get back to the time when it was possible to run software (apps) without needing to create an account. It just blows my mind that companies want to take on the liability of managing so much personal information.

This is a great point, but recent large leaks (thinking of Equifax and Anthem, but there are probably other comparable leaks) show that the liability involved isn't meaningful.

That problem is a big part of why the EU is bringing in the GDPR. The potential fines for infringement will be much more severe once those rules come into effect in a couple of months.

There isn't that much of a liability, practically speaking.

Nothing is worse than websites and apps deciding to invent notifications either on a regular basis, or because I haven't visited recently.

Twitter and LinkedIn are especially guilty. A "notification" about friends of friends of followers having liked something trivial.

What about Facebook notifying the user of a friend suggestion, as if it were a notification of a connection posting something?

If you don’t have enough activity to fill your notifications with interesting or remotely interesting things, Facebook will notify you about items like that, too.

Facebook is downright unethical in how it shows a notification on Messages “from a given friend X” when the notification is instead by Facebook, on behalf of friend X (birthday etc). How do we prevent companies from such shoddy behavior?

>> "How do we prevent companies from such shoddy behavior?"

You uninstall their apps, pronto.

* and delete your account, lest your friends continue to attempt to message you on a messenger you don’t have installed.

Facebook is the worst. Every couple of hours I'll look at my phone to see there's a dozen new notifications there, none of which have anything to do with content that I am involved in. Posts on groups I was automatically added to, events coming up I show no interest in, etc. Maybe once or twice a day there's a notification regarding something I've posted.

Facebook is bad, Twitter is way worse. "<your friend> liked a tweet from <someone you don't even know>". "In case you missed out on <friend>'s tweet". "<your friend> like a tweet from <another friend of yours>". "Recent tweet from <friend>". "<friend> liked your Retweet." "Highlights from <friend> and 10 others." I figure it's only another few years before every tweet shows up as a notification...

I want my phone to work more like my PC, where an app that is closed is actually dead. None of this background bullshit. I need Facebook uber etc to run only when I'm using them. The rest of the time they should be completely off.

On iOS at least, you can disable background activity. I’ve had Facebook’s disabled for years. I assume Android has something similar.

but apps on desktop can remain running as well, especially if they have a service/daemon that's separate from the ui.

I’ve revoked all badge permissions; literally all, even text and vm... I usually just reply to notifs when I can and leave the ringer on if I am expecting anything. Interestingly I get frequent notifs from Settings about Apple Pay and more iCloud storage, enough to move it to its own page. They’re ads in my book, which is tacky for a brand I perceived as luxury and trustworthy until the iOS11 upgrade that included this spam.

Highly recommended. Now that we’ve reached peak mobile we can treat them as tools rather than entertainment, Product Managers may follow soon.

A while ago I went from default allowing new apps to do notifications and badges to default not allowing them (with fewer apps being allowed to display badges than notifications) and now looking at my home screen is a much less stressful experience.

Actually, this is a great reminder to go audit my current settings again...

Perhaps I'm contrarian or just have well-behaved apps but I actually prefer notification-driven interaction with my phone. I try to open it only if there is a notification.

Otherwise I find myself aimlessly browsing without purpose.

See alert, respond to alert, lock phone again. That's the 'tool usage' that helps me minimise time-loss. The same pattern as we used for dumbphones where the only on-device distraction was a game of Snake.

> Perhaps I'm contrarian or just have well-behaved apps but I actually prefer notification-driven interaction with my phone. I try to open it only if there is a notification.

You must have well-behaved apps. Many apps are very aggressive about notifications; instead of using them for "this is something important you'll care about", many apps have started using them as "this is something you won't care about but we want you to open up our app anyways".

If anyone can find a link on the project that appeared on /. or k5 roughly 20 years ago about a 1bit red dot communication program that sat in the systray that had a report on emergent behaviours between 2 folk at either end, I'd be ever so grateful.

A long time ago blackberry had this is in spades with its red flashing LED. Pavlov’s dogs response to it.. well before the red dot was invented.


I've been recommending Outline for people. I've changed my mind on this.

Outline themselves have inserted a persistent, always-on-screen nag for their Chrome extension or app, which can not be disabled from Chrome/Android.

I've written them on this. It's still present.

I'll be firewalling that site as well, and using Firefox Reader Mode (or Archive.is where access is an issue) instead.

I was posting archive.is before and switched because those are slower to load. Maybe I'll go back to that.

Someone watched the Onyxia wipe video one too many times.

no more dots

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