Why Apps are child’s play

I wrote a piece  in The Daily Telegraph on 5 May urging graduate engineers to look at the apps industry as promising a bright career path – at least in the immediate future. In the course of researching the article I found a young lad of 17, Ben Tattersley, who has not only written and published his own apps, but is running classes in how to write apps in his school, with the support of his teachers.

Tattersley was at a loose end over the spring holiday last year and amused himsef reading an article about H-P’s webOS smartphone operating system.  A week later he had written his first app – a blogging program called Tumblbox for the Tumblr platform – a social media site where you can follow and de-follow people’s blogs.

It was Tattersley’s idea to teach the app development course and when he approached his tutors they were happy to back him. “I wanted something on my CV that made it different from everyone else’s, and the school has been very supportive.

Currently he is concentrating on his A levels, and looking to go to Loughborough or Brunel to study industrial design.

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Is Google being too intrusive?

In all the recent hooh-hah over Facebook hiring PR agency Burson Marsteller to rubbish Google anonymously, one issue seems to have gone unreported: is Google becoming too intrusive and violating users’ privacy, as FB and its spinmeisters claim?

Over the past couple of years, Google has been linking its various applications more closely together, aiming for a single sign-up for Gmail, Google Messaging, and all its other applications, in the same way that Yahoo and Microsoft have been tying their empires together.

But Google has been going a little further. It started with Gmail. When you send an email to someone over Gmail, Google’s bots read the content of the email, pick out the keywords, and serve up GoogleAds that are relevant to the content. If I email you about ice skating, you and I will see ice-skating ads.

This is intrusive in the sense that one gentleman shouldn’t read another gentleman’s mail – but who cares? It’s only a robot. And the relevant ads could be genuinely useful to me.

But Google is now seeking to take all this a step further by identifying how influential we all are as individuals against the keywords in its index. It is using its expertise at developing relevance-based software to extend its reach from websites to users – to us. And linking our usage of all Google applications together is one more step in this process.

In the near future, Google’s database will have assigned all of us a value as an influencer against all the most searched-on keywords in its index. It will then be able to make use of this information to target us individually for advertising, emails and anything else that it can make money out of.

This may well have it’s good side – seeing only stuff we’re interested in and having the e-crap filtered out, in much the same way that our ISP servers currently filter out what they think is spam on our behalf. But there is also a downside. As users we will no longer have total control of what we see and read. Many choices will be taken for us by Google’s bots.

Google is obviously highly sensitive about this issue because it is strenuously denying that it is doing any such thing. But it made the mistake of recently patenting software that does exactly this kind of intrusive pigeonholing of users, thus giving the game away.

It’s perhaps ironic that in all the debate about privacy versus transparency currently taking place about superinjunctions, few seem to be concerned about an area that is potentially of far greater concern.