Push notifications abuse hurts developers as well as users

Push notifications allow app developers to share news with their users, and are a great way of presenting new apps and features. Unfortunately, they are also a great nuisance when they are misused, bombarding users with unwanted and invasive content.

In theory, Apple prohibits developers offering their apps on the App Store to use push notifications to send “advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind.” In practice, a lot of the apps do exactly that.

And, according to AnyList CEO and co-founder Jeff Hunter, these developers are ruining the experience for the rest of the developers as well as the users.

“The abuse of push notifications is spreading across the App Store,” he pointed out in a recent blog post. “As a result, users are starting to reflexively reject app requests to send push notifications. Once they’ve been burned by an abusive app, from there on out, they reject push notifications from all apps.”

An additional problem stems from the fact that many users aren’t aware that they can choose not to receive notifications from specific apps by simply tweaking the app-specific settings in the iOS Settings app. They believe that once they have agreed to receive push notifications, they are saddled with them for life, which makes them even more angry and unlikely to allow apps installed at a later date to send them notes.

Hunter believes that in order to clear up this mess, Apple should institute a mechanism for reporting spammy notifications and crack down on abusive apps, as well as offer an easy, quick and obvious way for disabling notifications pushed by specific apps.

In order to do the latter, he advises Apple to allow developers to show the notification settings for an app within the app. “When users want to change the behavior of an app, they expect to do it in that app, not in iOS Settings,” he points out.

Finally, developers should be offered the possibility to inform users for what they intent to use the push notifications, so that they can make an informed choice.

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