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Rampant Abuse of Push Notifications Is Ruining Them For All Developers (anylistapp.com)
316 points by dirtae on Nov 12, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 142 comments



I wish spam prevention was a bigger part of Apple's culture.

I get spam robocalls on my iPhone and have no way to block them. I have recently started getting unblockable requests to Facetime with strangers on my Mac -- a service I didn't even know I was logged into. I have an Apple email address that is way behind Gmail on spam prevention. And as noted in the article, iOS notification spam is now an issue.

In contrast, Google has anti-spam as a core corporate competency. They know that where there is a profit motive, there will be spam. They truly think like hackers -- "if I were a bad actor, how would I abuse this feature?" Apple needs to pick this up.


For Android at least, there are numerous call-blocking apps. I use (though am increasingly frustrated with the privacy policy and feature-creep of) Mr Number, which can block all unknown numbers as well as specific blacklisted numbers.

What I'd REALLY prefer would be a way to categorize contacts into priority groups. Family/VIP, who can reach me 24/7/365. Friends who can call most of the time. Other contacts who can reach me daylight/weekday hours. And the rest who roll straight to voicemail. Add a schedulable exception (allow all calls in the next X hours because I'm expecting one from someone whose number I can't identify in advance).

Combine this with a visual voicemail (Google's product is good, but they already own far, far, far too much of my life) and I'd bitch a lot less about phones.

Increasingly: voice calls are very distracting and annoying. Unless you've got very good reason to call me, don't. I don't even get to "please don't call me" any more, I'll simply hang up (on the rare occasions an unwelcome call gets through).


Agreed. There's a lot more to improve about phones' actual telephony.

>> Family/VIP, who can reach me 24/7/365.

Also: a message like "Hi family, I'm asleep/busy, but if you really need me, press 1 to ring me anyway" would be wonderful. They wouldn't worry about calling at a bad time, and you wouldn't get awakened for something trivial.

In general, "what would a good human assistant do?" is a good question for computer systems. A secretary wouldn't wake you unless it was important.


Take a look at Anveo, someone else said they had a lot of luck with them.

A friend and I actually wrote this exact service, you'd get a number and forward it to whatever, and depending on the who was calling and when (with some rules you would set up), they would either ring through, be prompted that you are busy/sleeping/meeting, or go straight to the cellphone voicemail.

The problem is cost. ALL calls would have to go through this system, (which have a per-minute cost if they aren't over VoIP), so our minimum monthly price for this servce would probably be $15+.

Do you think you would pay that much? Most people loved the demo we showed them, but were hesitant to pay more than a few bucks a month. But, if you think differently I'd love to hear more.


> Do you think you would pay that much?

I'd rather not, because this should really be an app, not a service. I'd pay for that app though.


iOS 6's Do Not Disturb feature has an option that lets the caller through if they call twice, which can achieve a similar effect, though not only for a specific group.


Still wouldn't have helped for the recruiter who redialed me 6 times while I was attempting to read a 400-page PDF manual (incoming calls dump you out of the Adobe PDF reader and you've got to re-find your place in the document), while attempting to recover a melted down server in the colo (hadn't anticipated this, laptop was at the office).

Solution: tell the recruiting firm never, ever, ever to contact me again.

Second solution: take off and nuke Adobe from orbit.

Third solution: ePub for docs, people. It's multi-form-factor fungible, and the readers are vastly, vastly more functional than anything built for PDF.


Fourth solution: use iBooks, it doesn't lose your page. :p


Android?


Oh... I assumed you were using iOS because you replied to my comment about iOS 6.


Do Not Disturb will be default let calls from your Favourites through first-time, only calls from other numbers will be silenced the first time.


I actually wrote this. Problem is, cheapest VoIP termination is ~$8 a month (not to mention server/bandwidth costs).

We had a nice system where you could group contacts and depending on both your location and 'status', certain people would either ring through, be prompted that they may be interrupting and ask if they'd like to proceed, or go straight to the cellphone's voicemail.

People loved the demo we'd show them, but very few loved it enough to pay more than a couple bucks a month for the service.


FWIW, Anveo is pretty cheap for this sort of thing. You could even do your workflow without much custom work: http://anveo.com/consumer/features.asp?code=personalize_call

(Unaffiliated, just a customer.)


How much do you pay per month? Do you use it for your cellphone?


I use it much like one would use Google Voice; forwarding to my cell phone and a couple of SIP phones with some call flow stuffs. A DID with unlimited incoming is $2/mo. With the e911 charge and outbound minutes I pay ~$3-$4/mo total.


RingerX VIP (for jailbroken iOS devices) isn't quite what you want, but is fairly close. iBlacklist (one of its competitors) may or may not be closer (I don't personally use that one). (They both leave a lot to be desired with respect to the UI for maintaining your categorization.)


Most of that can be done with Google Voice.


Tasker can do most of what you want, and it's fairly straightforward to set up, since it's a very common use of the application.


Yeah, Mr Number is definitely the least favorite thing still on my phone. Is there anything better? Just for spam-blocking, I mean.

I'd especially love to see something done in the open-source spirit.


iOS 6 has a "Do Not Disturb" mode where you can set which contacts are allowed to call, it's a step in the right direction.

I think all that automation would backfire. What if you forgot that you added someone to the voicemail list and wonder why you are not receiving calls? It's not that hard to just dismiss the call when it happens.


4.1 has built in call blocking, including the ability to turn it on and off at certain times of day etc.


I think call blocking like that was even introduced in Android quite a while back, was it not?


Yeah you just rattled off the features of Google Voice (plus a few other services that do the same things).

It is indeed quite nice. No jailbreaking, managed in the same place as your contacts, texts, etc. Visible online, all the other benefits of Google Voice which I won't extol in detail.


The caveat there is you also have the drawbacks of google voice, most notably that MMS messages get silently dropped so neither you nor the sender know that you never received them. There are also the privacy implications of going through google, if you care about such things.


I wonder if internally, Google has recognized a business value-prop for fighting spam:

One might argue that by combating spam and noisy advertising, Google makes its own advertising less likely to get ignored (lumped in with the spam), and thus higher value.

Obviously this is a simplistic perspective, but perhaps there's some version of it that makes Google more incentivized to fight spam than Apple might be. Apple is incentivized by a "what makes for the best user experience" which has a more nebulous set of criteria.


Actually gmail was competing with HotMail/AOLMail and the biggest single thing that would get people to switch was 'better spam control.'

All you need to do is to tell a bunch of really smart engineers, "Here is this hugely important problem to solve, you probably aren't smart enough to solve it but we'll listen to what you have to say." And you get every engineer spending their 20% time burning first through the 'easy' fixes which don't actually work and then on to more 'interesting' fixes that kinda do, and finally some real puzzle masters doing things you would not expect but actually nail a lot of spam. And after you've done that then you have a number of people who really get a kick out of this sort of intellectual battle of wits, and you pull them together and make them the 'spam team'. Voila' achievement unlocked.


I still remember being blown away when I switched. I'd given up on SPAM. My wife still uses Yahoo and sometimes I'll go into her email to help with something and be shocked by how much she gets. Spam control is also the reason my two daughters have Gmail accounts so Google is capturing the next generation. (On a random side note my kids were actually disappointed when Buzz went away. They were all using it as their first SN experience as they were too young to be allowed access to anything else)


I was thinking about this just yesterday. I think Google's spam blocking accuracy is just a reflection of their advertising acuity. The better their advertising becomes, the better they can fight spam because they know what you want, and by extension what you don't. Furthermore, any advances in spam blocking technology are also advances in advertising technology.


Yep. When I hear people complain about spam I usually think "wow, people still get that?"

I've been on gmail since 2004 and even direct my @domain mail there.


Here's how I block numbers on an iPhone, regardless of OS version.

First, you can do so in your AT&T account. I've never tried this but number blocking showed up as a feature a few months ago. I would bet they charge for it, restart your contract, and use it as an excuse to disable any grandfathered unlimited accounts.

On your phone create a new contact called "z_telemarketers of shame". Any time you get a call from a telemarketer, robocall, etc., add that number to that contact. I use the "other" label. And feel free to create more granularity such as robocallers, telemarketers, spam, and so on.

I then set the option for that contact to silent at all times by turning the vibrate and ringer, settings both to none.

In iOS 6 you can take it a bit further by creating a group in your Contacts. You can't create groups on the phone so you will have to do this on your computer. You can then add these callers to this group and configure them as part of your "Do Not Disturb" settings. I don't do this as I prefer to use the feature as intended.

They do still call, and you will still see them light up your phone, but if you aren't paying attention, you won't notice.

Aside from within your AT&T account, at this time, I don't know any way to block before they get to your phone. ( Unless you jailbreak ) If they have a tendency to leave voicemails it can be a bummer.

What I have noticed after doing this is you can get them to stop. The trick seems to be to never answer, let it ring all the way through, don't "clip" the call, shooting them to voicemail right away. Don't give them any indication there will ever be someone to answer the call. Revert your voicemail message to the default so you aren't speaking.

I've gone from several a day down to one every few months with this technique. It took about six months to work. I have about 100 numbers in various callers that start with "z_", which is a convention I made up to push the name to the bottom of the list and keep it mostly out of sight.


> The trick seems to be to never answer, let it ring all the way through, don't "clip" the call, shooting them to voicemail right away.

There's a trick that works on all of the phones I've checked so far; instead of answering or rejecting the call, push the volume button - it will let the call ring through, but it'll silence the ringtone and stop vibrations. I find it to be one of the most useful (and frequently used) features of my phone.


does this have interesting side effects on the "social" apps that want to import your contacts?

Any fun stories to be found there?


I imagine that in a more perfect world, rather than competing with each other to control a vertically integrated solution, the people best at building hardware would instead cooperate with with the people best at building cloud services (and vice versa). I really miss believing that the world we really live in could ever actually work that way. :(


Unfortunately for Apple it seems to be easier for Google to catch up in OS and hardware design than it does for Apple to catch up in services.


Yep, Apple imagines people are just as perfect as their own devices.

On the iPhone I had to make a custom app (https://bitbucket.org/emilianbold/noblocked/wiki ) just to block calls from hidden numbers.

I guess the current iOS 6 with "Do Not Disturb" might help with that. It's only been 2 years(!) since I wrote my app so I should have waited :-| Oh, wait, iOS 6 doesn't even run on the iPhone 3G this was intended for.


Yep, Apple imagines people are just as perfect as their own devices.

Peter principle of consumer electronics?


I get spam robocalls on my iPhone and have no way to block them.

+1

Indeed. Somehow I've ended up on a number of phone spammer databases, such that I go through periods of getting 5+ calls per day. (Yes, of course I'm on the national do-not-call list and it's illegal to contact cell phones this way.) On Verizon you can block certain numbers (including "unkown"), though I believe it costs an additional 5$ a month. For the last 5 years or so I've been in the habit of not answering any call from a number not on my contact list, but I'd love a good (cheap) way to block spam calls. (And there aren't any good apps for this... I'm guessing Apple doesn't provide an API to actual phone functionality?)


If they have consistent caller ID (big if, I know, but it happens, and it still works if they use several numbers, as long as they're not totally random) then you can "block" them simply by putting them into a contact that has a silent ring tone and a vibration pattern of "None". They'll still show up on the screen when they call (and potentially interrupt you if you happened to be using something on the phone) but it's way less annoying.

Just thought I'd mention it in case you didn't know about that strategy and it's helpful for you.


It's annoying -- the best thing I've found is to use something like Google Voice (or run your own, build it with plivo or twilio), run calls through that, and set your default ringtone to silent/no vibrate, while setting a real ringtone and vibration for calls from the gateway. Unfortunately this means not getting caller-ID for callers.


On Verizon you can block up to five numbers for free. For an extra $5 a month you can block up to twenty numbers and get a bit finer control.


In all honesty, I get just as many push notification spam message on my android phone. It's an instant uninstall trigger for me. I see it more of a push notification problem rather than an apple/ios problem. It reminds me of how popups were really useful when they first came out, until they started being used as a marketing tool.


I 100% second this sentiment. I think if users start doing this more often, and reflect this in the reviews in the app store (or if the app store could have an "% of app downloads deleted" or some other metric showing dissatisfied user behavior) that would similarly solve the problem.


I gave a one-star review to an app just for spamming me with "like us on Facebook" requests in the app. But the number of reviews it had was well into the hundreds by the time I got to it, so my effect was miniscule. I agree with you completely, but as long as we are dreaming of an ideal world we may as well assume all apps behave in the first place :/


Just saw a pitch in NYC where they said that less than 3% of their users disable push notification, so they reasoned that this means push is the notification of choice. We spoke afterwards, and it seems like outright deletes were low as well (no number here), so it seems like this sort of abuse is not punished (like I think it should be) by users. Unless we get better feedback mechanisms, this sort of abuse will continue.


Remember when Netscape pushed out its browser with a pop-up blocker? And when you first launched it you got a pop-up ad because their parent (I think it was AOL at the time) demanded to be both their homepage as well as have an exception from the pop-up blocker?

I'm coming around to the idea that there is no such thing as free (gratis) software.


Part of Apple's culture?

How about allowing apps that block calls in the app store from third-parties?

A year and a half ago I passed on buying a new iPhone, even though I owned a 3GS and out of frustration I've gone out of my way to buy a Galaxy S. The Android Marketplace (as it was called back then) had several apps for blocking calls, some of them broken on my Galaxy S, but I could find one that worked and solved my problem.

So you know, I'm sure that one day Apple will wake up and provide the very best experience for blocking phone calls and SMS messages. But that's something I've been doing for at least 1 year and a half already, which goes to show just how fucked up is Apple's gatekeeper culture. "So this expensive gadget doesn't solve your real problems, but look how user-friendly it is".


As frustrating as it may be, an app that has that type of low-level access would probably be just as abused (if not more so) as push notifications. I can't blame Apple for not wanting to be blamed for the inevitable app that phones home your call log.


While I agree with your premise, I don't think it has bearing on this discussion. Whereas unwanted calls, texts, etc are a pervasive problem across all telephony and particularly cellular devices--one that the FTC has taken lead on dealing with, they do not particularly affect and are not preventable by any hardware manufacturer.


With my Android phone tied to Google Voice I can block specific numbers and Google blocks a bunch of them for me out of the gate:

http://support.google.com/voice/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answ...


Can you use an Android phone without a Google Voice number? If not then this also exists on iPhones, through the Google Voice app, just possibly tighter integration. Google Voice != iPhone; Google Voice ~= ATT


Different carriers have different support for Google Voice. Sprint has native Google Voice integration where your GV number is your carrier number.

On other carriers the integration isn't as tight, but the experience is still superior to the iPhone Google Voice experience in that Google Voice on Android integrates with the standard phone dialer so you just make outgoing calls like you normally would using the standard dialer (or any other app which invokes the standard dialer) and they go through Google Voice.


I'd agree that the hardware manufacturers aren't necessarily to blame, someone should be championing a real spam roundup API that lets you easily click a button when you get a text or phone call and report the sender as spam to the FTC. The FTC is the logical place to start that, but I don't see why Apple or Verizon or anyone couldn't get the ball rolling.


I get SMS spam on Google Voice somewhat regularly, and occasionally also voice mail spam.

As for Google's concern with "bad actors", any search with "ebook" or "download" would tend to demonstrate that as long as they get their vig, Google is quite flexible on what constitutes a "bad actor".


I was shocked to get my first spam text in 3 years over the weekend. I was pretty surprised as my number is in plaintext on my blog, Facebook and is found with my name in Google searches. On the other hand, not a single human being other than my mother know my real mobile number and I get a spam text once a month.

That and a quick look at my Gmail Inbox/Spam-folder indicates that they're still winning the fight.


Maybe Apple just needs to screen push notifications sent by apps better? Or maybe just a way for users to report spam push notifications to Apple?


The most hilarious one on my phone is a local transit app, which is sadly very useful so I'm keeping it, with an irate developer who uses push notifications to angrily respond to negative reviews in the App store. I get notifications like "Response to Gregory's negative review."

I actually read them sometimes because they are mildly amusing things like "Gregory's Review: 1/5 stars, didn't work. Developer comments: HOW ABOUT FILING A REAL BUG REPORT SO I CAN HELP YOU INSTEAD OF LEAVING A VAGUE BAD REVIEW."


That's tragically funny but it shows another problem with the app store. Years after the app store has been released, Apple hasn't solved a basic need for support and bug tracking. It would be an big help the community (both customer and developer) to give them a transparent and easy way to communicate issues with each other.

Does anyone know if this has been addressed in anyway with Apple saying they are considering it or not?


The basic need for support and bug tracking is a hard problem to solve, because users are stupid. If apple puts a bug tracker on the app store, any moderately popular app is going to end up with a huge mess of 'durrr... it doens't work' and 'hey developer your a fukhead' type comments. Even in the open source world, where the user base is generally more competent and savvy, the bug tracker is never front and centre on any of their websites - you've got to go looking for it and create an account, and most of the big projects still have a problem with useless bug reports.

Bug reports from the general public are simply not of any value. And building a support forum into the app store creates an expectation of support, which for most $1 apps is an unrealistic expectation. The developer has a facility to communicate with the users: the release notes on updates. The users shouldn't get a facility to communicate with the developer, unless the developer wishes to provide that facility outside the app store.


I mostly look at paid apps in both the (German) iOS and Mac App Stores, and I find the reviews to be surprisingly good. I often read them, see bugs described by clearly smart people, and feel good about making a buying decision. For everything worth more than $10+, I actually find Mac App Store reviews to be more helpful than the fluffy crap that bloggers love to write.

It would be a great first step if developers could at least opt in to an easy feedback channel.



How about app developers add a menu/settings item entitled something like "Find a bug?" that links to or facilitates the developer's own bug tracker?


Basically, no matter what the developer and Apple do, people will always use reviews as a place to submit vague bugs.

There have been a few times where I was lucky enough to be able to track someone down based on their username and personally contact them to help them out, but if they'd gone though official channels for support instead of via a review, it would have been much better for both of us.

I actually would like to see the ability for developers to publicly respond to reviews. Sure, some may abuse it by submitting nasty responses to bad reviews, but good developers would provide useful/polite responses, and that would be another signal users could use to determine if they want to buy the app in the first place.


> Basically, no matter what the developer and Apple do, people will always use reviews as a place to submit vague bugs.

Easy fix then: a small checkbox on review page "this is a technical problem", which will forward review and contact details for the reviewer to an arbitrary developer bugsystem.


And Apple could provide a mechanism to send a message to the user (without disclosing their personal details).


How about Apple adds a "Support" link to every application listing, which developers can populate with a URL to their preferred issue tracking system?

Oh wait -- they do! It's just a shame that most developers don't put anything really useful in there.:(


Oh wait! It doesn't show up when using the App Store app!

So even if you put a link there you need someone to be aware that such a link exists, to believe there might be something useful at the end of that link (which you point out, there rarely is), then wants to go to/turn on their computer, fire up iTunes, attempt to & succeed at finding your app, click the link, possibly register for your bug tracker (doesn't seem too uncommon), possibly check their email to confirm their registration and then finally file a bug report.


Ah! Not being an IOS dev (or owner) I had no idea. What is the typically-wrong use of it? Could it be simply that the word "Support" is a bad one to use for most people? Can it be changed to "Help?"

Anybody can feel free to contact me about this via my profile here, I'd truly be interested in making this flow easier and I know how to write this stuff.


I've seen a (large) number which just send you to the root page for the app (or company. or blog. or worse). Often without any clear way to send an email or report a problem, just a splash page that prompts you to download the app... which you've evidently downloaded.

Personally, a "report a problem" link would be a lot more inviting, especially if it let you send them a message from the app store, and include the last crash report (if it was the last one).


I'll probably do this soon. I've already put an option to mail a report set to pop up in various error conditions in the code. Some information is automatically added to the message but the user can add some more if required to describe what they were doing.

I've never actually had one back which I think I take as a good sign, I don't think I've had a crash report on iTunes Connect either so touch wood it is pretty solid although I'm adding more under the covers error logging at the moment using Parse which makes it pretty easy (saved me a day or so setting up and securing a server to my satisfaction). This will mean I can log from later in a crash (if it happens) than I could from email as I don't need to pop up any views just send it although where possible I will pop up the email option.


> to give them a transparent and easy way to communicate issues with each other.

Maybe they should fix their own bug tracking before trying something like this...


Poor Gregory, the guy doesn't understand that the vast bulk of the public has absolutely zero idea of what a bug report is, let alone how to hunt down your app online, find the reporting mechanism, and writing a useful report with appropriate details.


I am thinking about enabling them for a similar purpose although my style will be different. e.g. when a reviewer mentions not being able to reorder items I might send everyone a push to a tutorial explaining how to reorder lists. Afterall if one person is struggling maybe others are (I also look at my usability again after reviews like that).

I wouldn't call out specific reviews or even mention the trigger in any push messages although I have put responses to many reviews on my website.

http://human-friendly.com/ (recently redesigned - needs images still) http://itunes.com/apps/fastlists


The irony is that the user probably uninstalled the app and won't see the developer's response. :\


That's a nice commons you've got there. It'd be a tragedy if something happened to it.

As has been extensively discussed, there are lots of drawbacks to the App Store model. But if they actually enforced limits on push notifications (or maybe even charged developers for them), it'll slow the tragedy of the commons a bit. I agree that individual users could do the same, but the marginal spammy app still has every incentive to be spammy.


Charging developers is probably going to result in the opposite of what you want: notifying the user of something useful probably monetizes far less than the spammy notifications instead.

Apple just needs to get a grip and start swinging banhammers, like Facebook did with Zynga. Put troublesome apps in a probation period, where notification strings end up going through an approval process. And punish developers by holding subsequent apps up in the review process.



The right solution is to have every single push notification have a "Silence this" link on it. That takes you to a screen naming the app and asking if you want to turn off its ability to do push notifications. This fact is tracked across users.

Add a warning from Apple that any app that is turned off by too many people will be deemed to be too spammy, and taken out of the app store.

This would completely solve the problem. In the absence of any such mechanism, all incentives point towards continued abuse of the feature.


Had the same thought. It's an annoying additional piece of information on each notification, but considerably less annoying than them being abused.

Also the risk of false positives. It'd be possible for an app to have a high rate of disabling push notifications, but not be genuinely spammy.

Edit: not be genuinely spammy


I remember the day Draw Something started abusing push notifications: the paid version was sending me ads for other zynga games. What sucks is push notifications are almost essential for the functionality of the game: without them, you have to constantly check if it's your turn. I and many other people deleted the app as soon as the ads showed up. Talk about destroying a very valuable network effect for a quick profit-grab.

I'm now part of that group who reflexively rejects notification requests. I agree with this article that Apple should take action, but app makers should also realize the cost of abusing their customers.


And this is why users don't want to upgrade: the upgrade may be less valuable but out to monetize you.

So we developers can't get rid of our broken stuff because people are afraid to upgrade.


I recently had to disable notifications for Words With Friends (it took two tries). The "nudges" were bad enough (I'll make my move when I have some free time, damn it) but the final straw was when they started holiday spam -- e.g., "Why not celebrate Halloween by playing a word like SPOOKY, WITCH, or DRACULA?"

No, fuck you, Zynga. And Dracula shouldn't even be a playable word.


The same goes for Notification bubbles!!!!!!

I have deleted some games from my system because they display notification bubbles above the icon or app folder. That drives me insane. A few examples I can call out are Halfbrick studios. Jetpack Joyride and Fruit Ninja both do this too often for my taste and have been removed from my phone because of it. These are particularly bad examples because of how many taps it takes to actually show and clear the notification. I wish there was an opt out with these things as it disturbs my OCD to have a clean desktop and no notification bubbles.


But... you can disable those. They are called "Badges". Turn off the "Badge App Icon" option in the notification settings for the app in question.


Not all Badges are moderated through the notification center. Doodle Jump is one such app that manages to sneak badges past it -- they're not push notifications, but are populated upon application close.


Which requires knowing those settings exist, and finding them for the one app in 100+ that some people have in one giant list with no search. That's part of the complaint - turning them off is unintuitive and just plain bad.


First reaction to this: "Wow, that must be annoying, I'm glad I don't have these apps. What were the developers thinking, how do they get away with these shady practices?"

Second reaction: "Perhaps they are doing something right and we should be doing that in our apps. Perhaps younger people actually like such things, after all they get dozens of sms every day and it makes them feel important/liked?"


"As a result, users are starting to reflexively reject app requests to send push notifications."

Source? An actual, non-vague stat? Proof?


OK, so there is gratuitous use of push notifications, but it's also unfair to compare push usage between a utility app and apps that are trying to convince you to try something new.

How about we compare the pushes to email campaigns by companies?

I for one am constantly amazed at how much users tolerate these emails.

So I say, yes, make it easier to stop the pushes just like it's easy to unsubscribe from email campaigns. It could be as easy as making sure users know that the pushes stop when the app is uninstalled.

But I think outside of other app developers and the tech community, users may not feel as strongly that this is abuse.


At the very least they should ban apps that have a way where no matter how many times you check it, the icon always has the little (1) on it. GetGlue was doing this for a while, but it appears they stopped.


That always irked me too. Now you can disable those little app notification badges in settings.


TaskRabbit was abusing them as well. We should do our best to shame any organization that sends spam via push notifications.


The same is true of in-app purchases. How many scammy "buy 3000 mojo points!" apps are out there now? At this point I don't even bother with an app if I see in-app purchases. Shame for those who use them correctly, like Alien Blue.


Perhaps it'd be useful if Apple would make a distinction between applications with one-time IAPs (e.g, "upgrade to SurfWriter Plus for $1.99") and applications with consumable IAPs (e.g, "get ten thousand zorkberries for $1.99"). The latter are almost certainly the sort of IAPs that are fundamentally bothering you here.


The one that's been killing me lately are the notifications from the new He-Man game for iPhone. I have yet to figure out how to turn off push notifications for this app, it's not in the in-game settings or in the Settings app and I know I never enabled them in any dialogs. I just randomly get random messages about how I'm not doing a good enough job saving Eternia. If I can't figure this out soon the game is gone.

Isn't this the kind of abuse that the app store approval process should be addressing? If notifications are supported, then they should be required to be configurable in the Settings app, no exceptions.


They might be local notifications from the app itself, not remote push notifications.


And there is no way to turn these off. The app just has to schedule them while its running.


If you care enough, I suggest filing a radar.


but then wouldn't they only show when the app is running? I get these notifications all the time, even when the app is not suspended.


No, they happen locally on your phone, at a later time.


I've been calling Facebook Notifications the Push Notification of the Web, they are great, maybe just as good as native Push Notifications. But they have also "solved" (it's new and yet to see) the spam problem recently by implementing harsh restrictions on how you as a developer can send them. It would be interesting if Apple and Google copied this behavior. Basically Apps that send > 50000 notifications a week have to maintain a 17% Click-To-Impression ratio. However I find the 50K an oddly picked number which should instead be based on installed user base.


The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this is intentional. A big problem with computer security is that people just blindly click "OK" to any sort of authorization prompt. Ever since push notification abuse started to get bad, I've been much more careful about reading the authorization prompts that my phone throws up, after authorizing some apps for push notifications without thinking through the implications, then having to manually turn them off later.


The Instacart notifications are just insane. I got into the early beta and never used the app a single time because of the sheer volume of annoying pushes I'd get.


Apple needs to start engaging in Pagerank-style ranking of applications in the store, and including metrics like "number of push notifications sent, per user" in the calculation. Please also include "number of applications per developer".

And please revise the guidelines such that if in-app purchases are turned off on the phone, showing the user a catalog or purchases screen is grounds for rejection.


Those notifications are the "fucking horror". I uninstall any app (on Android, mind you) that does that.

heck, i even dislike the notifications when the app is on the foreground (specially the apps begging for rating on the market: when i get one, i just go put one star). but the background ones are TRUE EVIL. :P


I have no issues with an app asking me ONCE (unless I press `later`) for a ranking. The fact of the matter is that once I install an app, I'm going to forget about the fact that it came from the Play Store and I'm just going to use it. If it weren't for those pop-ups, I would only ever write reviews when an app pissed me off.


Just tap Don't Allow.

Edit: More seriously, all four of those suggestions are very good, and I'd like to see them too. For #4, a deep link to the app's notification settings would be good enough, and probably more likely than getting a notification settings controller in UIKit.


Isn't that the point of the OP?

Apps that are increasingly abusing push notifications means that users are increasingly just choosing "Don't Allow" even when push notifications are a key part of a non-spammy app, because they're wary of later being spammed.


The point is that this kind of notification spam causes users to do just that, and it's having a negative impact on apps that use push notifications appropriately.


Local Notifications are not disabled with the "Don't Allow" settings. I had to delete Diamond Dash after it sent me one too many notifications at 4 am.


I hate all notifications except my morning alarm clock. I don't want to be interrupted.


I am not for "Provide a feedback mechanism that allows users to report spammy notifications, and crack down on abusive apps." because 'what is' spam is highly subjective, and this can be used against the App to bring down even genuine Apps! I wouldn't agree that we can let the iPhone user remain ignorant of what is all this about Push Notifications! If the user bought the iPhone, if the user 'chose to' install the App, then it falls upon the user to learn how to use it! Is it not? When we buy, say, a new electronic equipment, say a new refrigerator, is it not upon us to learn about how to use it controls?


Same is also true for facebook notifications. I recently got a notification that said "Blabla has given you a free movie on Flixster." Now, I am actually down to try a service that gives me a free movie rental. But because of my past experience with fb notifications, I immediately hit 'Ignore' thinking it was another gimmicky spam.

Facebook has focused so much at Games that I think it will begin to hurt them when more well-known businesses in other categories try to use their platform to distribute offers.


As mentioned before, Local Notifications can be equally spammy, are impossible to turn off, and are visually indistinguishable from push notifications.

The are also not subject to a strict interpretation of the app review guidelines.

The only limitation is that they need to be set ahead of time when the app is active, or triggered by one of the background modes (geofencing, significant location change, task completion, Bluetooth LE, etc.)


I think this could be solved with a simple like/dislike button for notifications.

If that type of notification is unwanted you could, dislike it and it would suppress notifications of that type for ... x days. If you do it enough, it would disable it. If enough of the apps notifications are disliked then the apps notification privileges get suspended all together.


I can't for the life of me figure out how to disable Embark NYC's push notification.

My biggest problem now, however, is getting push notifications from Letterpress at 4AM, because the person I play with is on the other side of the continent.

There should be an adittional setting to require permission for a specified window of time like, say, 1AM to 8AM.


May be developers should provide the frequency (x) of push notifications at the time of requesting access. And Apple should ensure not more than x notifications were sent to a device? Something along the lines: XYZ App would like to send you push notifications. Freq: 2/day, 1/week, User set [Allow] [Deny].


They should take Growl's approach of forcing developers to declare all possible notifications that an app can send, so that they could examine their texts and purposes during review process. It would also grant a possibility for a user to enable/disable notifications individually.


I rarely allow apps to send me push notifications. Only very selectively do I allow it and even then my patience is short. For the average user this may be an issue but I've found my approach handles the situation very nicely.


Would a simple "stop showing me these" on each notification work?


This is the number one reason I find my iPhone irritating (in practice) -- apps keep abusing even local notifications and those should be off by default unless I allow it.


I don't think there are really any good reasons to use push notifications. I have them disabled on all the apps I install and don't feel like I'm missing out on anything.


What I love on android is I can just strike-through any privilege I don't want an app to have, like internet access. This might be a cyanogenmod-only feature though.


This, and the crapware problem on Windows, seem like two instances of the same underlying problem. What could a general solution look like?


Not buying/installing shitty apps by low rent developers or companys that have poor reputations?


Crapware is predominantly a problem on new PCs, where the vast majority of the population just goes along with it. It needs a strong stand from Microsoft.


First thing I turn off on all apps. If, after a spell, I find that I miss push notifications on a given app, then I will turn it on.


Facebook apps went through the same problems years ago. I don't think facebook ever managed to settle on a solution.


i generally say no to notifications. I don't have anything mission critical on email that I need to know "right this second" and twitter and fb updates I only want when I want them, otherwise they're a huge distraction..


For all the weird ad/spam accusations I've heard against Android, it shocks me how much this seems to be an iOS issue. I can say I've never, ever had a problem with this in Android, and if I did, most every app that I use that I can think of allows me to enabled/disable different types of notifications (FB/Twitter/etc). It's also a tiny bit amusing that one of the solutions is to make the Settings more sane and make them live inside their application like Android.


> For all the weird ad/spam accusations I've heard against Android, it shocks me how much this seems to be an iOS issue.

Your shock is misplaced, since this issue is rampant on both platforms. Shitty software developers will do anything sleazy to make a quick buck.

I noticed that all of the spam I encountered was from games that had their own in-game currency. After the <blah>ing-With-Friends / Draw Something fads died out and I removed those Zynga games, I can't remember the last time I saw a garbage notification.


I wonder if it's a UX difference. I don't use iOS, but looking at those notifications, they seem obtrusive and demanding of your attention. Whereas in Android, the notifications just accumulate in the tray at the top without really getting in the way.


But even given that Android notification SPAM would be less annoying than iOS notification SPAM seems to be, why don't I ever see sketchy Android apps even trying that? Am I just not downloading apps from the wrong places?


AirPush was one company that did (does?) sell ads as Android push notifications. On the whole, they're really not that widely used anymore, though - partly because Android users pushed back hard against them about a year ago, IIRC, but also because the newest version or two of Android makes it really easy to identify the offending app and disable the notifications.

If I remember correctly, the pushback was before the new notification tray, so it may have been Android's own response to the problem.


It is now against the Play store developer TOS to have notifications unless they clearly identify what App it is coming from, I think this makes things like AirPush much more difficult to pull off.


You know, I'd noticed that you can easily find out what apps generate notifications but it literally had never even occurred to me that that was the reason for that addition.


Why do you capitalize "spam"?


My logic was that because they're unobtrustive, they're way less likely to get clicked on, and so sketchy Android devs don't really bother with it.


There was a company for a while that was trying to do that. People exploded with anger (number one, it was hard to identify what app was the cause, number two, it was as annoying as it much be for iOS users). Almost all apps removed it, the company changed strategy if I recall and Google threatened to ban their apps.

But other than one Zynga game, I never, ever get spam notifications and that Zynga game was installed for about an hour or two.


Good news, everyone! Android (as of 4.1 Jelly Bean) lets you disable notifications on a per-app basis. I'm surprised no one has mentioned this on this thread yet. You'll miss the "it's your turn to Draw Something!" notifications, but, c'mon, will you really miss them?

Settings -> Apps -> Draw Something -> uncheck "Show notifications"

Screenshot: http://www.cultofandroid.com/16833/jelly-bean-tip-disable-an...


Too bad that does not work for Play Store. I'd like a way to avoid getting a notification every time I install an app.


Interesting. My Android phone, which I use only for development and testing tons of apps, has multiple apps that are essentially blatant malware. They send push notifications that appear to be from some ad network that click through to a shady website that's trying to get me to install some other Android app.


I don't know if you saw it in the thread but you can actually long press the notifications now and find the offender.




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