I'm Lance Somoza, a professional IT Consultant with over 15 years of industry experience and an obsession for technology. This is my tech soapbox.

Death to Push Notification Spam

Post updated on October 7 at 2:20 PM Pacific to include a new notification from Offer Up.

You get them, I get them, we all get them — and no it’s not ice cream, but something far worse — Push Notification spam. Whether they direct us to new features or advertise sales and specials, they have become a plague. We get so many notifications as is. Coupled with the lacking notification management in iOS, the last thing we need is literal spam adding to the mess.

For too long we have let apps control our endless stream of notifications in the hopes they’ll make our lives easier. While most do, there are countless others, big and small, that have abused our trust. I say no more. Here are my top offenders, in order of most annoying to least.

My Top Offenders

Postmates

They are by far the worst in terms of content and frequency. Here’s one in particular I saved from June.

No.
How about you just put it in your update notes instead?

Offer Up

Offer Up isn’t far behind Postmates. Yeah, I know it’s [insert national holiday here]. It doesn’t mean I’m going to look for [insert holiday-associated item here] in your app. I didn’t save an example, but I’m sure it won’t be long before I get another one.

Added on October 7 at 2:20PM:

Right on queue! I just received this about an hour ago.
What did I tell you? Right on queue! I just received this about an hour ago.

Starbucks

Really? Why? Did everyone suddenly forget about the largest coffee chain on Earth?

No shit? Get out of town!
No shit? Get outta town!

Others

There are countless others, as I’ve seen plenty examples over the years. I asked family and friends to send me any notifications they received in the same vein, so here are a few more. If you have particularly terrible ones, feel free to send them to me.

5miles A repeat offender.
Awful, and a repeat offender for my niece.

Even TILE?
Even TILE? Again from my niece.

QVC
Egregious. Sent in by my Dad.

Come now, Domino’s.
Come now, Domino’s.

Solution

The solution I feel is three-fold.

Marketers: Don’t Be Shitty

Marketers need to stop trying to appeal to us this way. To think at any time I could be bombarded with an asinine notification about your product is ridiculous. If anything, it makes me dislike your brand/app and inches me ever closer to never using your service again. Only engage me when it’s actually warranted. Otherwise, get out of my way.

We The People

Report apps that do this to Apple. It’s explicitly against the App Store Review Guidelines, and if we make enough noise, hopefully Apple will listen. Which brings me to the third part of the solution.

You can report an app via the ‘Report A Problem’ site. One you login, apps purchased within the last 90 days will appear. Click the offending app’s ‘Report A Problem’ button and enter something of the following nature. If you need to report an app not on the list, contact support directly.

Apple’s Report A Problem site.
How to report an app. Just using Giphy as an example. They are not an offender.

Apple: Enforce App Store Guidelines

Half of the onus for this mess is on Apple. They have rules explicitly outlawing these kinds of practices, yet have continued to let marketers get away with it. As a result, they have set a terrible precedent.

They also haven’t provided a way for us as users to opt-out or otherwise better manage these kinds of notifications. To draw a parallel, Apple introduced an official API for developers to engage users on rating and reviewing apps in iOS 11. As a result, the experience has been far better than what developers have resorted to over the years. Maybe they could apply this same kind of thinking to ad-based notifications.

Otherwise, Apple needs to get with the program and actually enforce the policies below. Here are a few App Store Review Guidelines that speak best to this situation.

3.2.2 Unacceptable [Business Models]

(ii) Monetizing built-in capabilities provided by the hardware or operating system, such as Push Notifications, the camera, or the gyroscope; or Apple services, such as Apple Music access or iCloud storage.

4.5 Apple Sites and Services

4.5.3 Do not use Apple Services to spam, phish, or send unsolicited messages to customers, including Game Center, Push Notifications, etc.

4.5.4 Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used for advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes or to send sensitive personal or confidential information.

Emphasis mine. I don’t know how it can be more clear.

The Starbucks notification above is obviously in violation of all these rules. They outright say they want me to place an order from my phone under the guise of ‘cool feature’.

In the case of Postmates asking me to check out their latest update, I’ll play devil’s advocate. One could argue it’s not for ‘direct marketing purposes’, and only a plea to check out ‘cool feature’. Still, what feature could they possibly add that wouldn’t be for the benefit of their core business? Considering this, how could the notification not be in violation of the App Store guidelines? It might as well say ‘Please open our app and order something.’ — at least then I’d have a little more respect for their honesty.

Not A Solution

You might be saying, ‘well then don’t patronize these businesses and stop using their apps’ or ‘turn off notifications for the offenders’, but that’s beside the point. Some do offer great services or experiences that require or provide great benefit via Push Notification (e.g. letting you know when your order is ready). We simply must be vocal about discouraging this kind of behavior or it will continue to run rampant.

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