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Google's Plan to Make Tech Less Addictive (fastcodesign.com)
248 points by gnicholas 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments



My cynical read of this is that it's an attack on Facebook. Google has a giant attention platform in YouTube, but Facebook and Instagram are attention platforms. I think YouTube will decline a bit as a result of this, but the rest of Google - and the data collection of Android are untouched. If people become less addicted to their phones, they're still going to have their phone when they go to restaurants and take photos of things on their phones, they're just not going to post about it on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter. Google will still know everything they do now, they'll still be the default photos experience and search experience and maps experience for Android, you'll just spend less time in attention apps like YouTube and Facebook.

The real genius is that it fits Apple's brand really well, way better than Google's. If they can make this a serious digital wellness campaign, I could easily see Apple joining in. It won't affect their bottom line and it'll make them look good. And with that, both mobile platforms and ~all of Facebook's user base get nudges to become less addicted to and pay less attention to Facebook.


There was already a campaign - humanetech.com started by no suprise a former Googler a while back.

Through internal studies, they already knew quite a few years ago that Google engineers where as likely as to get addicted and waste time on cat videos, the kardashians and whatever else as much as the people the platforms end up hooking. Those results produced some internal 'what about my kids' outrage.

What they then discovered is deaddicting ppl is much more complicated and takes a whole lot longer than getting them to turn into screen touching addicts. It was so complicated not to mention the opposite of what generated rev that it got quietly shelved and ppl left No big diff between Google and Big Tobacco in this regard.

What you are seeing today is them dusting off the cobwebs on that project as the unintended social and psychological consequences are finally taking a serious unignorable toll.

I don't see Google or Facebook contributing to the solution. They will play the same game Exxon Shell Philip Morris et al play. And that game remains empire defense.

It's up to you to keep your kids safe.


Exactly. The PR game is tough, so they have to make moves like these, but it gleams unauthentic when you consider there's teams at Google dedicated to increasing watch-time on Youtube, for example.

If they were really focusing on digital well-being this wouldn’t be a notification; they would just stop auto-playing the next video. They would hide the "related videos" list after your time is up, etc. They don’t have to be drastic; there’s "small" changes that aren’t far-fetched that they could make if this really was a "focus" for them.

"Reminding" you you’re bingeing while you’re bingeing is the kind of stuff a team comes up with when they know doing something to keep people from bingeing is the right thing to do, but they also don’t want to have those crucial-yet-awkard meetings with the Growth team downstairs or argue with the Playback Time team in the next building.


"Shush" and "Wind Down" are already on Samsung phones, and FB is in good relations with Samsung (see oculus), so doubt this would be Facebook killer.

Additionally, Facebook already turn down video in newsfeed (it decreased time-spent), and changed goals to 'meaningful social interactions'. Long term, being useful is more important than grabbing attention (and FB plays long-term game). The fact that FB, Instagram, Youtube, are "grabbing attention", is only byproduct of thinking that time-spent like metrics are good proxies for usefulness (and they were really easy to optimize), which turns out not to be true (or at least they don't tell the full story). Hackernews is grabbing my attentions the most for me, should I blame the ranking model?

Most engineers, managers, designers, ... in these companies are people who want to build useful stuff, rather than maximizing short term gains for share holders (additionally none of these companies are paying dividends, so if you maximize value for share holders, you should play mid to long game). If you can make these engineers realized that what they are building is harmful, they will change it.

Disclaimer: I worked at Facebook and it from inside, so have different "trust" model for these companies, and expectations how they work internally. I don't believe that there sinister master-plan behind every feature they release, instead, they are complex organisms with many players that are optimizing for different goals (sometimes sometimes seemingly opposite).


> "Shush" and "Wind Down" are already on Samsung phones, and FB is in good relations with Samsung (see oculus), so doubt this would be Facebook killer.

How are they called? (Looking at my S9 and can't find anything similar.)


> Most engineers, managers, designers, ... in these companies are people who want to build useful stuff, rather than maximizing short term gains for share holders (additionally none of these companies are paying dividends, so if you maximize value for share holders, you should play mid to long game)

This sounds very nice but is a little hard to believe considering the behavior of the company.

> I don't believe that there sinister master-plan behind every feature they release

You don't need to have a sinister master plan - extreme greed, a lust for power, and a lack of ethics is more than sufficient.


> My cynical read of this is that it's an attack on Facebook

Yah, and hooray. Google may be more powerful and invasive even, but there's tons of reasons they have a less-manipulative, less-awful business model overall. Any successful attack on Facebook is a good thing.

All these companies are bad, but Facebook is the worst of them. I'd say Facebook < Google = Amazon < Microsoft < Apple < FLO (free/libre/open).

All these companies are shitty in certain ways, but some are shittier than others. Apple's walled-garden censorship of copyleft software on iOS is what led me to embrace GNU in the first place, but the level of dark-patterns they do is nothing like Facebook.


Why Google over MS? 5-10 years ago I'd agree, but not as much now. They are trying to be a cloud service company funded by enterprise and there's nothing inherently wrong with that as far as I can see. I'd also put Amazon below MS due to labor abuses that are not as prevalent at MS.


Okay, I think you're right. I'll edit my post. But it's super complex. MS has done extremely bad perverse dark-patterns with Windows 10 and has extended the level of ads-built-in beyond what was happening before. They seem to be trying to be as bad as Google and are just worse at it. And they don't seem to do as much redeeming things.


Yeah you're right. Ranking big, faceless, multinational corporations on who does the most bad when they all do lots of it is really hard. MS does have a lot of dark pattern garbage going on.


MS charges for their product, which means the users are not the product. Agreed.


It's often repeated, but this is a silly slogan. It's not either-or. Subscription magazines have ads. There is nothing preventing a business from making money from users and ads, and if anything, a subscription makes it easier to know who your users are, so the ads are more valuable to advertisers.

Some business models require this; most newspapers wouldn't be in business without both subscription and ad sales.

Windows 10 is apparently a case in point: it's not free and it has ads.


Or, they sell both the license and the users by having an install base that has trouble switching. Remember windows 10 ads? https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2017/3/17/14956540/mic...


Yikes. So much to say.

> Google may be more powerful and invasive even, but there's tons of reasons they have a less-manipulative, less-awful business model overall.

They sell ads too. Sure, they don't have THE newsfeed, but they're still trying. Google Now is a feed with personal and non-personal content they're trying to sneak into your life. They're still trying to make their way into your feelings and social network with Google photos, their Clips camera, etc.

Google invented the "shadow profile": they were there, checking which website's you visited before Facebook was even a thing. They're even doing it without cookies now [1].

Google is the company Facebook has been trying to become. They're very colorful, they have those cute doodles, Android is "open"; they're an older company that's been smarter at PR. Part of that has been not making huge waves, keeping all data closed (as opposed to Facebook, which has an open platform), and keeping quiet.

> Any successful attack on Facebook is a good thing.

Facebook isn't going anywhere, and if it does, who will step in to cover the social networking space? I can assure you Google will be the first in line. You'll have a single company with full information about you. Then what?

> I'd say Facebook < Google = Amazon < Microsoft < Apple < FLO (free/libre/open).

I know it's perhaps a bit much to ask, but would you care to elaborate with why your raking is as it is?

These rankings are so often just personal hunches based on what has been on the headlines lately and it leads to sentiments like this.

I'm not trying to defend Facebook, but rankings without factual evidence make little sense. Of course Facebook will be at the bottom, cause the media and Facebook have always been at odds [2]. Media is a big business with interests too, and Facebook is one of, if not its biggest threats.

Apple and Google collect more location and app-usage data than Facebook. Apple had big controversies about suicides in its manufacturing plants: latest was this year [3]. Amazon workers are treated like cattle [5] and even have to pee on bottles to save time [4].

Why is Microsoft not on top of your list? Is it because the "innovation" Apple brought last decade offsets those lives lost at Chinese factories? Why is Google collecting data about which apps you use and which websites you visit on your phone not worse than Facebook doing it through a VPN [6]?

This is not meant to address your comment specifically or personally push you in any way shape or form, I just want to address all comments of people claiming "Facebook is worse than Google" and putting Google in some sort of moral high-ground.

There's no good company vs bad company here. These are all companies, and companies have morals when it makes business sense. Our job is to not fall for PR games and make them accountable on all fronts, and if you look past the PR, I personally think, you realize that vouching for a company to beat another just hurts everyone.

[1]: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/how-g...

[2]: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/12/facebook-rupert-murdoch-thre...

[3]: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/07/suicide-chinese-...

[4]: https://nypost.com/2018/04/16/amazon-warehouse-workers-pee-i...

[5]: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/12/7-examples-ho...

[6]: https://techcrunch.com/2018/02/12/facebook-starts-pushing-it...


About the suicide at the factory: everybody points finger at Apple, but the factory is owned and operated by Foxconn. I'm not saying that to defend Apple, but it's an important thing to keep in mind.


I'm not an expert, but I'm not a trend-follower either. I've been anti-Facebook from early days. It was obvious from the beginning that they were far more of an attack on the open internet than Google.

It was Google Plus that pushed Facebook to even acknowledge and support at all the idea that people had different personas in different contexts and wanted to relate to and share with different people in different ways.

Google has long offered far more actual control and transparency than Facebook. Google offers products that should exist at least, such as web searching to state the obvious. Facebook-style social media shouldn't exist — they want to be an AOL-type walled-garden.

My opinions have nothing to do with the media, and I'm not apologizing for Google or Amazon's real problems.

I don't want to get into defending Apple (their direction with iOS years ago was the final straw that drove me to move to GNU/Linux full time). I could go on about why I now still feel MS is worse though.

Overall, you speculate a lot about how my judgments are probably superficial. What I'll admit is that they ARE general impressions, not a detailed analysis. But my concerns are not johnny-come-lately scapegoating or unthoughtful.

> some sort of moral high-ground

GNU has the moral high ground here, not even Linux has that.

To be clear, I'm not even saying Facebook is useless. It has some value and has captured a ton of value (which is why it makes sense for people to use it to get the value they've captured). On that note, consider that Facebook does far more to destroy the long-term archival value of the internet than Google.

There aren't comparable complaints like this: https://daringfireball.net/2017/06/fuck_facebook for Google or the other companies, even though they have their own serious issues.

I'm highly critical of them all.


Thanks for the thoughtful answer, I agree with you, and am glad you don't consider yourself a trend-follower. Stay critical, HN.


Another possible cynical angle is that they are getting out in front of a major PR problem. The rumblings about the addictive nature of tech have been getting louder for years. I just talked to a startup that was just going to replace the whole Android launcher to help solve this. And there are plenty of HNers who have their own custom solutions to this, some going as far as downgrading to a dumbphone.

If they can shift the discussion from "phones are bad" to "some apps are bad", suddenly it's not their problem anymore. People looking to collect scalps will be focused on the ones creating the most exploitative experiences. Which is not only good for Google, but good for everybody, in that's putting pressure closer to the right place.


Except that Facebook has also stated they too want their products to be less addictive. But let's be real, Google is also very much talking only about real addiction, the negative kind that negatively effects people's lives, like alcoholism does. They absolutely have every incentive to keep you glued to YouTube and Google Maps. ($$$)

Plus, you mention Facebook, maybe because it's popular to shit on them here, but it's really not just them, this is systemic problem across our entire industry.

Netflix has created an environment where people can spend an entire 3 day weekend watching just one show, and barely leave the couch. It works for the brand, but is it healthy? Amazon has built a model that searching for one problem leads you down a rabbit hole of product reviews and other suggestions where you most definitely can waste hours and end up buying tons of junk along the way.

Those are just 4 big brands, but for us, Github keeps iterating to make its platform more addictive. I've spent hours in there finding novel projects and reading code. Or let's not forget about Reddit, I've spent an entire day at the park on Reddit instead of reading the book I went to the park to read.


Cynically, they’re playing from big tobacco’s book, and this is like putting filters on a Lucky Strike. The product is the same, it can still be used the same way, and they only make money when it’s used that way. But now they have a shred of deniability and some PR. If this holds, they’ll have “Lite” experiences next, and other “healthy options” that still don’t change the underlying nature of the product.


> The real genius is that it fits Apple's brand really well, way better than Google's

Agreed. Of course, Apple would hate to look like they’re late to the party, but it’s probably too late for this to be introduced st this years Apple Developers Conference, right? Or perhaps it doesn’t need to be introduced there and could just be rolled out on the next version of iOS this fall?

Regardless, I wonder what will be the fate of apps like mine (BeeLine Reader), whose entire purpose (making reading on-screen easier by using line-wrapping color gradients) would be thwarted by Wind Down. We’ve already seen implications from Night Shift, which is especially annoying for our users who use our app for accessibility reasons and have to toggle the mode just to use our app.

Of course, you wouldn’t want apps to be able to unilaterally exempt themselves from the greyscale mode. But if you let users choose which apps to exempt, then would they just end up whitelisting (“colorlisting”?) Facebook and other addictive apps — defeating the purpose?


It is good if it's to Google's benefit because that means it's serious instead of a brand image campaign.


PR&D?


You make an excellent point regarding Apple.

I think most people don't know and/or don't care, but you can get the best of both world with CopperheadOS.

Note: CopperheadOS is not for everybody though, I suggest reading this before trying it: https://copperhead.co/android/docs/usage_guide


Corporation's are made of people and people don't only have the direct interests of the company in mind.

I don't understand the commenters responding negativepy to these proposals; by all means be circumspect, but don't criticize a company for making a positive change just because you think it doesn't go far enough.


Agreed. Plenty of people struggle with the problem they're solving here. Especially at Google, where they a) think of themselves as a nice, mission-driven company, and b) they do a lot of user-focused stuff that doesn't immediately contribute to quarterly revenue, and c) they have a workforce that can easily switch jobs, there's plenty of reason to think that they're sincere here.

It's surely true that execs looked at this and made sure the ROI wasn't blatantly large and negative. And there's definitely another level of analysis where a lot of good behavior turns out to be useful to the organism, in the same sense that moms love kids because genes need new meat-robot bodies to run around in. But that complimentary to your frame of analysis, not contradictory to it.


Lets be real though. Youtube binge-watching is not a matter of "forgetting" to take a break. We have clocks— we’ve all been there bingeing and thinking "uh, when the clock hits XX:00 I’ll stop watching" or "I’ll stop after two more videos", etc.

Recommended videos are very good though, and always very accessible. There's always another great, tailored video auto-playing after the one we're in. A better effort IMO would be to simply stop auto-playing after XX number of minutes; or even just hide the "recommended videos" section behind a button.

Notifying you you're bingeing while you're bingeing and calling it an effort in digital well-being is the kind of stuff a team comes up with when they know doing something to keep people from bingeing is the right thing to do, but they also don’t want to have those crucial-yet-awkard meetings with the Growth team downstairs or argue with the Playback Time team in the next building.


Sure. And that's an issue for the YouTube team, but not an issue for the Android team. It's perfectly possible to me that this happened not for cynical reasons, but mainly because the Android people were just doing something they thought good for the user, and nobody powerful was cynical enough to stop them just to juice short-term metrics for one product among many.


Yet the article is titled "Google's Plan to Make Tech Less Addictive" and it was the Google CEO who announced this new effort.


Yup. CEOs generally announce things that other people think up and build.


I hate it, and my personal biggest gripe is we the people should be making the rules to protect ourselves through laws, cheeringng on a company for doing this is just encouraging and enabling “self regulation”.

They’ll also hold shareholder value above “product values” (as google users are their product). It encourages half measure and ineffective solutions.


> we the people should be making the rules to protect ourselves through laws

The government has a moral obligation to make sure we aren’t spending too much time on our devices? People can’t think for themselves anymore.

It’s the same thing as the war on drugs. The government can provide medical assistance and services but otherwise it’s not their place.


The company, as a company, would not move forward with these measures if it didn't help their bottom line or hurt their competition in some way. They aren't doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. Sure, it may have started as a well meaning thing by a few workers, but it's pretty clear that it's to hurt their largest advertising rival, Facebook. If Google can make their advertising and data more valuable than their alternative they will grow. Does that mean that what they are doing is inherently bad, and won't benefit society if it's successful? Not at all.


I responded with apprehension and gave an example of a similar initiative that Nintendo has already shipped [0], which has been widely mocked, and I explained why these sorts of nagging notifications are a tricky balancing act (the product doesn't know the context of your use, but can only guess, and it is grating when it gets it wrong).

[0] https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/997614-nintendo-3ds/747...

https://www.neogaf.com/threads/does-nintendos-oh-youve-been-...


It wasn't widely mocked. I have met numerous people who played Nintendo games with this warning and seeing some neckbeards on the threads you linked I had never seen anyone complain about it. Most people just take a break or don't play for extended times to even see the warning.


Only 'neckbeards' had a problem with it? That's simply not true, and the links I provided are full of people explaining why Nintendo's execution was flawed.


So, you clearly don't understand the hypocrisy behind Google's efforts? How naive can you possibly be? People at Google are having a job which is essentially having only the interests of the company in mind!

No-no-no, do not try to spin it like that! Corporations are made of jobs. People have obligations working those jobs. Sure, they are people, but only in the sense that they have human rights as well.

What Google is trying to do is not "positive change", it is an effort to make the user responsible for their addictive behavior instead of being responsible selling addictive tech themselves.


You make an accusation without support against Google and then use that as support for another accusation against the poster. This has the effect of leaving unbiased observers to wonder what the basis for your moral outrage is.

Those same things that are addictive are also empowering and useful. Giving someone a way to handle it properly is a responsible way to do provide that service.


It's clearly a contradiction. Companies like Google thrived on addictive behavior of users online. Now that Google basically is the Internet for consumers they want to crack down on online and tech addiction? Really?

What I've read in the article means to me that Google will toss away the responsibility to users by making them aware of their usage patterns. "We told them they need a break from consuming our apps, but they won't listen! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯" Well, good luck with that, I guess? Consumers will buy anything, even that joke about "making consumer tech less consume-ry".


It's only a contradiction if you think short term. Long term, it's clearly in Google's interest to engender sustainable consumption. People who are comfortable with the role their smartphones play in their lives are much more valuable consumers than addicts who are apprehensive over it. They are also much less likely to seek radical action which may damage Google in hard to predict ways.


It has not, historically, been in the nature of companies to think or act in the long term. People inside companies have incentives to bring short term profits, while long term profits benefits only the company as a whole, not any individual internal actor who may be positioned to make them happen. Therefore, they don’t happen, and large organizations basically always act only in the short term.


This isn’t true. There are many companies that make long term decisions at the expense of short term value. The reason it doesn’t feel that way is because those are the kinds of moves and companies that tend to fly under the radar, while short term blockbuster moves get trotted out as examples more often because the consequences, good or bad, tend to be more of a spectacle.


I don't think this is quite true. Companies which are privately owned, or run by their founders tend to have long term interests. People get tied up in the idea of their 'legacy', or move beyond the ideals of mere profit and want to affect change in the world and build a world more to their liking.

It's things like that which motivated Henry Ford to pay his workers are more fair wage than his competitors.

Google's founders still control either the majority or a large plurality of the voting stock, so they can have the company align with long-term profit motives, and sustainable existence.


Yeah, that's common knowledge but like most such knowledge it may contain a nugget of truth (yes, there are certain structures that reward shorttermism), it just doesn't stand up to scrutiny as a general framework. In studying practically all companies that has become successful at scale and sustained both success and scale over a period of time, you can find plenty of evidence of long term thinking.

Google in particular has shown itself to be perfectly capable of setting and following a long term strategy.


In the case of both Google and Facebook, the founders still have more than 50% of the voting rights (not ownership) and I don't believe that they are necessarily motivated by making another billion. I think they are interested in the long term success of their company.


It's called balance. They made it an official notion and released a few things. It's a tangible effort. I give them a bit (a bit) of trust regarding the wisdom needed to make a good "business".

I don't subscribe to the responsibility shift. Unless they make their notification and metrics bogus, hard to notice etc it's a good measure. And yes, let's make user "responsible" or IMO.. in control. The system informs me, I decide. You see this as a trick to get away with murder, personally I don't.

Also, unless they decide to retire from business I don't see how Google can improve the life of their users.


Well, in my opinion, the users actually are always in control. Don't buy shady and addictive stuff. Or throw away, sell whatever you've got. But, let's face it, that's not a productive solution Google would suggest, right? Making good and lasting tech is really expensive, there is no denying that. But I'd rather have that, instead of shady and addictive consumer products. The tech industry always fails to deliver neutral products. Every Internet enabled gadget has some shady twist and the respective companies don't give a damn if something fails to live up to expectations of consumer neutrality.


I kinda disagree. Your phone is a pocket computer that transfered the desktop usages, you didn't have that much time in your computer before so life took care of time constraints. "Ubiquitous computing" means neverending internet .. and this scales the problematic usages to the point people realize they've been somehow hijacked by their devices, something they didn't sense before. More and more articles talk about that, and now brands are trying to give users hints about unforeseen effects.


I disagree. Youtube might thrive on user's addiction. But not Google Search. I know plenty of people who the first step to answer a question is to check out Google Search, but I don't know anyone who's addicted to searching for the sake of searching. Compare that with people who check twitters, facebook or instagram the second they get a bit bored.


So what exactly is the solution you want? Do you want google to block the service after a threshold period of time.


Google is just optimizing, instead of trying to attract the most eyeballs, they are trying to attract the most eyeballs without you realizing that you are being attracted.


Internet companies, but Google especially, thrive on high numbers of short interactions that end in an ad click. Someone spending an hour in Gmail and then clicking an advert is less profitable to Google than someone spending 15 minutes in Gmail and then clicking an advert on 4 separate occasions. The ideal for Google is for people to spend less time on their site, but to keep coming back more often.


If Google really wanted to help here, why don't they just, you know, make every part of YouTube less optimised for maximum view time. Remove autoplay, turn down the recommendations. Nah, we're gonna throw some optional, possibly ineffective shit into our mobile OS instead so we can say we did something.


Those features you listed seem like quite useful ones for day to day usage. Many things won’t have a bright line “this makes the product useful” vs. “this makes the product addictive” feature classification.


> Many things won’t have a bright line “

Agreed.

Though how often have you found autoplay by default makes YouTube useful?


For multi-parts videos?


So, not very often.


Multi-part videos exist? Just...why?

Youtube videos are up to 12 hours.

That's reminiscent of the good ol' VCR days.


Because for certain things, it's better to split the content on multiple parts. For example, I was watching a series of videos on Windows Server administration and the content was split into multiple parts and it made sense.


Still, why does YT need to default to autoplay on every time I load a watch page?


"User engagement"


The first two features are nice, but the cynical side of me thinks this is all about the third feature. They will simultaneously appear concerned and helpful, easing the growing negative sentiment against them while introducing even more pervasive tracking.


This was my first thought too.

Don't get me wrong, I truly think Google wants to be the good guy here if possible. But if they can combine that with even more tracking (= more money) they won't hesitate for a second.


I’m not on Android so I’m not familiar with the level of tracking that currently exists, but can’t they track this usage data already, even if they’re not showing users the results right now?

My understanding from talking with folks at Apple and Microsoft is that they track time spent in various apps/applications so they know what is popular with users. Is Android different?


Yes. I was shocked when I logged into my dad's Google account that Google recorded every app that he opened and closed and the times.


I'm surprised your's is the only comment even mentioning tracking…


I am feeling cynical because none of the announcements mentioned notifications or random reward content. Nor am I familiar with research that shows grayscale reduces addictiveness.

I like the put down gesture silencing phones, but there's two things wrong with it. 1) it encourages you to leave the phone easily accessible instead of turning it off 2) its exactly the kind of corporate move to give just enough control to the individual to make it seem like Google's business model is that person's own moral failings.


Well, look I don't have data at google scale but my mobile scale info suggests people do not turn their phones off and they won't.

You might say, "You should" and I'll say, "And if my family needs to get ahold of me for some emergency? Should I just ignore them calling about some emergency with my three year old daughter for dubious performative gestures?"

As for 2, once can imagine a world where Google doesn't want to have such revenue concentration in ads. Destroying the industry as they leave it is not a bad idea, if it gets them where they need to be. But of course, I'm skeptical.


Your response advances parent commenter’s point. Addicted people come up with excuses why they can’t stop. If you accept that you’re addicted and decide to end it, you will default to a 90s technology lifestyle and allow technology into your life exactly when you want it. Google’s business would be tremendously damaged if people actually broke the addiction, so they are making superficial product changes that keep us high-functioning addicts.


> If you accept that you’re addicted and decide to end it, you will default to a 90s technology lifestyle and allow technology into your life exactly when you want it.

This axiomatically assumes it's better or that a pejorative notion of "addiction" is bad. You raising this isn't some kind of brilliant metapoint, it's circular. "You disagree with them and therefore that proves the point!" Hrmm.

I think there are pros and cons to pervasive mobile use. For example: it's realistic for me to run an entirely remote software team. Everyone gets more time with their families, but we can all adequately respond when problems exist. Because of my ability to respond, I spend more time with my daughter than my family ever did, and even when I'm away I can be engaged with her in a way that she recognizes and appreciates. Again, no one else my family had this option in your pastoral 90s. I never saw my family; they were chained to work.

And in the 90s, my requirements for technology to support myself sequestered me from society. I can realistically do my job, take a lunch break and meet friends, and simply resume work wherever that ends. I could not do that before. I see mobile sturation as freedom from being cloistered by my career and interests.

So maybe, just maybe, there are arguments and experiences to consider beyond a feral distaste for google?


I like all the 3 features mentioned, good they're coming. They really should have been something implementable as an app though. I guess I'll get to test them in 2 or 3 years.

(Yeah, this is annoying - Android versions come out really fast, but their support in most phones lags couple of years, even if you just throw away your current one and go buy a flagship.)


Buy an Android One phone. I think some pretty good ones will come within the next 10 months with Android P built in, just like thry had Android O built in. The fragmentation problem is now being solved. Its effects will be visible by 4th quarter of 2020.


Check out http://www.getsiempo.com - we built a launcher that incorporates this thinking throughout the UI. We'd love feedback on the beta!


Thanks! I will play with this.

Based on the website and the PlayStore video, I already love two of your ideas: unbranded icons and batching notifications. Not sure if the former might have much productivity or health impact, but it sure as hell makes the interface looks nicer.

EDIT: I saw a comment on PlayStore about opt-out telemetry in your product. Could you elaborate on exactly what kind of data you're sending? Or do I have to packet-trace it myself?


Awesome!

Most of what we collect is aggregated & anonymous. Our privacy policy explains the categories of information that we collect and how we use it. Within each category, we collect too many data points to create an itemized list. For example, for users who haven’t opted-out, we collect aggregated & anonymous event logs for every tap on every screen within the Siempo launcher. However, we could offer to answer any specific questions. Anyone is welcome to do there own packet trace, but that won’t help them understand what is anonymous and what isn’t.


With Project Treble that may change who knows?


Google is not the only company that is trying to optimize both profits and user experience/benefits, that is a priority where I work also.

I have been trying to live in Apple’s walled garden because they are more of a privacy company. But, I periodically turn Google Assistant, Google Maps, and Gmail on - largely turning my iPhone temporarily into a Google device as far as tracking goes. I do this when travelling or when I need the better ‘AI’ experience that Google provides. Google Assistant really is very useful, and sometimes turning over my life event data is worth it.


How about an option where a parent controls during what times the phone has a data connection?


I tried that and my kid hacked the phone (and PC). So now I just take the keyboard in the evening and return it the next day. I think Google and Apple have an opposing interest to parents.


Having better default notifications on Android would be a start. Everything off(bar calls & messages) unless turned on by user.

every app now wants to notify you about everything.. so every phone i get, i need to go in and turn off notifications for everything bar calls & text messages.

Pity they don't sync your preferences when you get a new phone.


Try the Siempo launcher - only product that lets you batch notifications.


I have a similar feeling about this to how Comcast/Xfinity and Disney promote their services to help reduce screen time for kids. It's hogwash, since they are actively trying everything (including AI) to maximize screen time / watch time and any other metric. Their efforts seem token.


"It will even display what you did inside various apps–and on this front, third- party developers will be able to specify trackable metrics inside their software."

Well, that sounds like a totally disinterested move that has nothing to do with Google's strive to track every single thing you do.


Goold old "create the problem and the solution"


Not quite, I think the more accurate rephrasing would be maximize profits, maximize profits, maximize profits. That plus a lot of other employee and customer stuff you that wan to keep their jobs.

It's good tech companies are pushing for open access.


Which just means that someone else will step in. People will move towards where they needs are met. People dont want the addiction but they want what they are addicted to and you can't just put the genie back in the bottle again.

I view this is a political / strategic positioning to guard against legislation I don't see it having any real effect or being of any significance just as I don't consider addiction the fault of clever algorithms but rather human nature. Instagram is probably the best example of that. It's the one considered to pushing most people into depression yet it's mostly based around people sharing images not clever algorithms (yes I know they use algorithms on instagram)


> Which just means that someone else will step in. People will move towards where they needs are met. People dont want the addiction but they want what they are addicted to and you can't just put the genie back in the bottle again.

You're not wrong, but this is more nuanced, because it's the moral scapegoat many use when addressing this issue.

Someone at Youtube trying to optimize for watch time might be aware that making people watch more videos might not the best thing to do. Yet, if it's not Youtube "someone else will step in"-- people will always watch more videos no? Might as well be us who make money out of it.


Aren't you repeating what I said or am I missing something?


I am inherently suspicious of these types of nanny-tech initiatives. Nintendo did something similar recently in many of their games — warning you that you've been playing for X amount of time, mayba take a break? — and it came off very grating and presumptive, to the point that there were many popular memes created to make fun of it.

It's hard to do these types of warnings with a naive implementation because the system doesn't know the context in hich you are using the progress, it can only guess, and when it guesses wrong, it leaves a bad impression.

Maybe Google can do a better job with its execution, and maybe making it 'opt-in' will solve that disconnect. I guess we'll find out.


> warning you that you've been playing for X amount of time, mayba take a break?

You've been playing /r/outside for too long. Maybe take a break?


> I am inherently suspicious of these types of nanny-tech initiatives.

As you should be. It just gives google more excuse to monitor you. They have justification for monitoring you more closely. To "help" you.

It's so funny to me how the HN crowd who attacked google,facebook, etc relentlessly for monitoring their users are now demanding google,facebook,etc monitor their users even more to manipulate their behavior.

What happened to individual responsibility? And why the focus solely on social media? Should ISPs do the same thing? What about 24/7 stores? What about TV? What about news organizations? Should we only allow news organizations to print on odd numbered days to help news junkies?

I know most of the anti-social media rhetoric is just paid propaganda funded by the elites who want control over social media. But I just don't understand the supposedly "independent minded free thinking" liberals on hacker news advocating for nanny-state and nanny-corporations.

Is this hacker news or geriatric news. It seems like most posters on here are bitter 50+ year olds who rail against technology. There is something so eerie and strange about the HN crowd lately. Is it that most HN are just old now?

I would never expected this type of thinking from developers, let alone "hackers" on "hacker" news.


Regardless of how serious google is about this (their main customers are advertisers not android users), I don’t find the measures convincing

- shush: if you place your phone on the table you’ll pick it up from time to time anyways, it won’t be out of sight

- colors: I’ve turned my smartphone screen B&W, I haven’t noticed a big difference yet, but maybe there is some research out there

- monitoring: I installed a monitor app a while back. While I was observing my usage in the beginning regularly, today, I just don’t care about the numbers anymore

I highly doubt that these measures will be effective


They don't have to be effective on you, if they are effective on even a small percent, it might be worth it.

We hear this every time there's a new public safety campaign: Drunk driving, seat belts, texting and driving, safe sex, stop smoking, gun safety, etc

Every single time, the cry is "but but, this won't solve all the problems, it won't work on everyone." But we have reduced drunk driving deaths, we have reduced highway deaths with mandatory seat belts and airbags, we have lowered the spread of STDs.

Sure, you can give people a label listing calories and tell them to eat healthy and many won't. But an increasing percentage of people are becoming more aware, and awareness is really the first step.

There's way too much cynicism, and way too much, I dunno, either alpha-male macho behavior that chafes at being told to eat your Brussels Sprouts, but being nudged by your phone to stop using it once in a while isn't a bad idea.

Something has to break people out of their skinner box once in a while, besides hunger or bankruptcy.


This is a good point, and the people who this will help most are probably driving a lot of notifications to their friends, so this will help their friends too.


Kind of like how soda companies encourage people to exercise. They don't want you to stop buying their product, but cut back just enough to stop people complaining.


I already hate every minute of using Android, so they have made strides in that direction already for some time.


I'd have to dig it out, but I remember reading an article that showed that just having phones on the table seriously interfered with ones ability to follow a conversation. I insist on removing phones from sight when eating since.

I wonder if the people that implemented this face down feature know that?


I do not agree with any of this. It is a personal choice. I am old and spent much of my day behind a screen my entire life. Do not need anyone to tell me to take a step away.

Google really just needs to do their own thing and stop listening to all the chatter about this and that.


This is exactly like moderate drinker complaining about AA programs, R.I.D.E. stops[1] and Smart Serve[2].

It's not about you. Stop humble bragging about your lack of an addictive personality and simply move on.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduce_Impaired_Driving_Everyw...

[2] https://www.smartserve.ca/


"We know our smartphones are making us unhappy." [link to an article describing a study that put people in a contrived, artificially distracting situation and then pointed out that they enjoyed their time less]

Is that the best evidence you have? Because it's crap.


Interesting to watch tech trying to negative feedback itself :)


What about a warning telling us to look away from the phone every 20 minutes of intense use (eyes staring at the screen continuously) ?


That would be so awesome when you are reading some scientific paper for university and have to focus! "Hey, you are reading too much, get off! Phone locked for the next 5 minutes!"


Oddly enough, this was an explicit goal of windows phone 8, and they largely succeeded. It was fantastic.


A great move for Google would be to treat notifications in Android as Google Now cards; i.e have some machine learn if it is relevant content. Observing if the user has opened the notification, and also offer more feedback options in the long press menu.

IMHO, best results would be obtained by letting the apps emit their own feature vectors to be fed to the learner. Google could aggregate these among all their users. App creators would learn to provide features that actually inform of a kind of proposed interaction. Failing to do so would boot them out of this users' "attention market".

I receive about 20 useless facebook notification for a relevant one (mainly when someone is talking to me in the fb chat). Facebook could clearly publish the following along to the learner with each notification:

* is it a chat message?

* is it from someone I have talked to recently?

* is it from a cluster of users that talks to each other frequently that I am part of

* a representation of the cited cluster above

* location of the content (with some additional feature engineering from the phone, who knows if I've been there previously)

* it is a photo/video/text?

* a doc2vec vector if it is text content

* an image embedding if it is a photo

etc.

I believe this could reduce the amount of notifications by a solid order of magnitude, while not lowering the usefulness value too much. We would suffer way less hijacking, and reduce our addiction of the mindless novelty-seeking kind.


In other news, Bethesda has recently announced an initiative to make its games less fun..


Plans are meaningless - I will believe it when I see Google explaining to their shareholders that they plan to systematically reduce the value of the company. Maximising time spent online in front of ads is literally their entire business!


personally waiting for librem5 phones. currently using miui 9 with mi6 which is giving advanced control to user preventing from data sucking corps.


This is a good time to reread one of pg’s essays http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html


I would swear that they had years doing this. After using gmail or android for five minutes, I want to throw the devices out of the window.


In other news, McDonald's introduces air-locks between the kitchen and the counter to decrease scent-induced appetite.


"Less addictive" = more dependent on Google.


How so?


> Big Pharma's Plan to Make Prescription Drugs Less Addictive

> Local Heroin Dealers' Plan to Make Heroin Less Addictive

> Coca Cola's Plan to Make Soda Less Addictive

LGTM.


Most of googles products are not based on addiction. You use google search because you have to find something. You don't spend hours randomly browsing search results. Youtube will take a hit from this but the rest of google is not an addiction business.


Sometimes you Google cos you carnt be arsed to think about it.

Sometimes you google something and get a full page of paid for clickable links and you click one of them instead of scrolling to the "organic search".

Sometimes you dont pay enough attention to what are real search results and what are adverts.

A statistically significant sometimes.

Is instant gratification at the cost of long term gain adiction? Not sure. Its pretty close.

Dont put your phone face down, put it away.


Most of Google's revenue is based on addiction. You see more ads the longer you use the internet.


I spend a large amount of time on the internet, but I use duck duck go and have ad blockers turned on. When I turn off add blockers it makes me want to spend less time on the internet.


Google search is very needs based. You need to search things pretty much every day, You will use their service regularly simply because it's so useful for getting things done. You don't need to check facebook every 5 minutes and make regular posts or comments.


On point 1: That's often one of the big selling points of new (and therefore patented and more expensive) medications. It is much easier to convince doctors to prescribe medications that doesn't risk causing addiction, which in turn means that profits can go up.

If the trend is towards people being more cautious of the addictive properties of tech, being able to offer a less addictive alternative could be a selling point in the future.


This is hilarious. Reminds of what tobacco companies tried to push 20-or-so years ago!


They already did that by introducing Material Design. Its blandness, huge whitespaces, inability to recognize clickable objects are so off-putting that I ran away from Android already and interact with it only when I have to and with variable doses of cognitive pain.

Thanks Google for preventing me from becoming a smartphone addict by design!




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