The Mess In Messaging

Communication is hard. Simple, but not easy. In this digital age, you can talk with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Instantly text, or chat, or message a friend across the country? No problem. All you must do is choose the right app. What could go wrong?

Texting via SMS is antiquated and should be obsolete, yet it continues to thrive in the US. Yeah, so texting – rudimentary, outdated, super-popular!

With the internet in your pocket, you can now act more modern, using the data-rich web to communicate. If you’re on Apple’s iPhone, it’s simple. Use iMessage. No probs, right? Well, except for those pesky green bubbles with their inferior communication skills. More on that later.

iMessage is not the only chat app available. Many others abound. So if I want to, say, avoid broken group texts between iMessage and Android Messages, I’ve got to use a third-party web-based chat app that skips SMS texting altogether.

Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are popular choices to name just two. For argument’s sake, let’s say those are the only two. It should be simple to pick one – but it’s not. The fact is, you must use the same chat app(s) that the people you communicate with do. It’s all fragmented. Many people, many chat apps.

To make it easy, you could just pick a chat app based on only the one or two people you message the most. But easy, it is not. In my case, my wife and my Dad are my best texters. My wife and I use iMessage on our iPhones – blue text bubbles! My Dad uses an Android phone, so his texts to me are green. No big deal, really. Sometimes my Dad and I use Facebook Messenger. But what will happen when I switch my phone to an Android? I’ll become a green bubble to my wife – but again so what?

Since my family is all on Facebook, then what if we all just used Facebook Messenger together? Then it would not matter what phone anyone uses. Well, that won’t work for me because my wife – to this day – refuses to install Facebook Messenger on her phone. She is adamantly opposed to the move Facebook made years ago when it pulled Messenger from the main Facebook app and “forced” everyone to install a separate app. She aint havin’ it! Okay. I can work with that.

So scratch Facebook Messenger. Instead, what if my family switches to WhatsApp? That could be great, but it’s unlikely to ever happen. Why? Simply because people don’t like change, even if it’s for the better. Change is…wait for it…hard. No matter what messenger client I may like, getting everyone on board is the challenge.

I would like to look into Google’s solutions…but oh my, that’s a convoluted mess on its own! To its credit, Google has tried – and is still trying – to clean up the mess in their messaging services. They’re now pushing RCS, the new and improved replacement of SMS/MMS texting. But who knows how that will go. At least they’re attempting to adopt iMessage-like features into Google Messages. Might as well cheer them on.

On one hand, it’s a bummer that choosing and using one do-it-all message app isn’t a reality. But on the other hand, I guess it’s cool that there are options. You can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Just make sure you have the right app(s).

What do you think? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

Privacy And Technology Mixed

Like Oil and Water

There’s been a lot of bad news in the past several years about data breaches and other privacy related issues. You would think that, like oil and water, Privacy and Technology just don’t mix. Despite advances in security and protection with our web-connected devices, privacy keeps getting thrown under the bus. Are there any tech companies you can trust these days?

Apple Privacy

One of the biggest proponents for techno-privacy is Apple. They market Privacy as a feature of their premium ecosystem, and it’s one with great benefits. What are the greatest perks of online privacy? Identity, Autonomy, and Security come to mind.

You may have heard sayings like, “Your device, your data.” As an individual, you have personal info: some is private, some is public – you should be the one to decide. The problem is too often others – tech companies, smart assistants, algorithms – decide for us.

Amongst the big-tech oligopoly, Apple has been the company you can trust the most. That’s a big reason why I bought into Apple’s “walled-garden.” You could ride a chariot on top of those walls! In one ad, they boldly declared that, “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” I like the reassuring sound of that; it’s comforting.

But no company is perfect. We now have the recent discomforting news that Apple has, perhaps inadvertently, shown hypocrisy – which might as well be heresy – by violating its users’ privacy. They allowed contractors to listen to personal audio recordings coming from Siri, the digital assistant. It’s bad enough news that long-time Apple blogger, John Gruber of Daring Fireball, did not have good things to say about the situation. I think Apple has broken some trust.

Is there anyone you can trust these days to respect or protect your privacy? I think Apple is still the one big-tech company you can trust the most, and that should be borne out in how they respond to this new debacle.

Google Privacy

Besides Apple, I also bought into the Google universe, having just switched from iPad to Chromebook. I’m also leaning towards trading my iPhone for an Android phone. I like going all-in. This is mostly because I’m a tech-geek; gadgets are my thing. But the issue about privacy did weigh into my decision to leap over Apple’s garden walls into the world-wide-web that is Google’s domain.

If I value my digital privacy, how can I leave Apple for Google? Fair question.

In a blog post published earlier this year, I made the following simplistic statement:

“One reason I prefer Apple over Google is because of privacy. Google wants all your data to throw ads at you and feed their machine learning stuff. Apple respects your privacy and would rather not have your personal data.”

Like big-tech companies that update their privacy policies, I’ve updated my view on Google’s position towards privacy. The bottom line is that I find Google’s mix of privacy and technology acceptable. Maybe they’re not as trustworthy as Apple, but I think they’re trustworthy enough.

While I prefer Google did not collect and use so much of my personal data, they give me enough opportunities to opt-out or opt-in at particular points. Their Privacy and Security pages have greatly improved over time, and the GDPR keeps them in check.

As for Google throwing ads at me, the fact is ads are thrown at me everywhere all the time by numerous sources. It’s not as if Google is the sole dispenser of unpleasant ads. And on the contrary, the data Google collects is used to show me pleasant ads, which are relevant to me and my interests.

Also, the data Google collects is used to “feed their machine learning stuff.” Maybe Google’s A.I. Machine is a glutton, but I trust all that data gets put to good use. I know it benefits Google, making their machine algorithms more “intelligent” overall for many purposes.

For me, I get a lot of perks like being reminded that I have a bill scheduled for auto-pay coming up. How did Google know that? They “read” my email. But the “they” referred to here is not some group of human curators. My understanding is that it’s automatic, part of the Google machine learning mechanism. It’s powerful and magical albeit opaque and misunderstood. But again, the fruits of this labor are very practical and beneficial to me.

You could say I’ve chosen to trust Google. Frankly, switching from iPad to Chromebook, I had to. But it was still a choice. If I want to use Google’s devices and services, I must decide to trust them with my data.

Getting Personal

When it comes to putting my personal trust in Google, or any company, there’s always risk. Even Apple drops the ball. While some trust is based on a company’s lengthy privacy policy or catchy marketing, it also boils down to personal experience.

In all my years of both my wife and I using Google, we’ve had zero privacy problems. Instead, we’ve enjoyed the many benefits of Google using our own data for us, not against us. Google’s “free” services have served us well.

Although bad news about data hacks and surveillance is too prevalent and causes anxiety and uncertainty, we all have a personal choice when it comes to our data and how it gets used. How much control we have is sometimes up for debate. But we do, by and large, decide which companies we trust with our info. Hopefully, they’ll continue to earn it by showing more respect for our privacy.

What’s your take on digital privacy? Does location tracking or recorded audio listening creep you out? Do you trust Google or Apple more? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!