A really nasty trend: apps that write to Twitter or Facebook without user understanding/approval

Today I spammed my Twitter followers. I didn’t really know that I was doing that. And that pisses me off.

You’ve probably seen this kind of spam. It usually comes when someone you are following wins a mayor badge on Foursquare. Sometimes you don’t even realize it went out. How many people watch their outbound tweets very closely? I don’t.

But today I tried a new feature from Listorious that lets me answer questions from people who visit my Listorious page. I started answering the dozens of questions that both showed up from the service as well as from people who left questions there. I didn’t notice that the button said “reply and tweet.” Hey, do you read everything closely? Do you understand what that means? That it will shove that answer over to Twitter? I didn’t.

All of a sudden I was getting complaints from people who were getting spammed to death.

Yikes.

Then I went and tried to figure out how to turn it off. I couldn’t find a setting. Keep in mind, this is to answer questions left over on Listorious. Why was it spamming Twitter? Where was the off button? I finally went to Twitter’s connection page http://twitter.com/settings/connections and told it to not allow anything else from Listorious.

Listorious isn’t the only one that does this kind of stuff. Foursquare does it a lot. I can’t figure out how to turn off all Twittering on my Android app for Foursquare.

Hootsuite did it too. They forced you to send out a tweet simply to try a beta of one of their new versions (they don’t do that anymore, they tell me).

This stuff pisses me off. You should NEVER write to Twitter on my behalf without making it VERY clear that it’s about to do that.

But, somehow, I feel we’re about to see more apps that spam Twitter. It makes me itchy and far less likely to turn on connections to other apps like Twitter and Facebook.

Oh, and Twitter needs to add filtering to protect against this kind of spam. “Hide all Listorious messages” would be an awesome new feature for Twitter to add.

UPDATE: I called Gregory, who runs Listorious, and he said it was an honest mistake and that he didn’t think through the implications of turning that feature on. I told him that’s not good enough and that this feature really pissed me off. It took me from someone that was very evangelistic about his service to someone who has blocked his service within minutes.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

79 thoughts on “A really nasty trend: apps that write to Twitter or Facebook without user understanding/approval

  1. They are the product…meaning they get to choose how they want it to work. You don't have to police what they do, but you should know at least something about what the product is and how it works before you use it. You gave your blind faith and trust, it's YOUR fault. You didn't read the ToS, it's YOUR fault. All the information is there and easy to work with. You want everything turned off, then turn it off. But the people who CREATED and OWN the application wanted it on by default…and they have every right to.

  2. I am about 2 Ice Ages behind you guys and trying to figure this stuff out without brain power like Robert or as fahrni states- where is the frickin “off' button first and not the always 'like” always on/

    Keeping up with you folks is like riding a horse to catch up to the bullet train – When you folks state the “wild west' i feel OK on my pony. If this happens to Robert imagine what happens to neophytes like me?

    I got the “On' button thing down now – now I have to find the Off button :-)

  3. I think that Twitter should police this more heavily or else they risk the Facebook problem of having a bunch of apps like Farmville spamming your stream to get users.

  4. Glad I tickled your funny bone. But I agree with your point of view about Listorious's practice here.

    The problem you've had with Listorious is the very same problem Facebook users (who prefer to be less public than you prefer) have had with the company. Yes, it's our responsibility to make wise choices as to what we share online and what's done with our data, be it as small as a tweet or an entire Facebook profile.

    BUT… and it is a big but… it is still the responsibility of the service to have a clear and simple UI to enable those choices to be executed by the user. There's no reason that Reply and Tweet should have been combined into one button. Surprises like the one you had today should always be few and far between.

  5. Exactly. They want their apps to “go viral,” which means your Twitter followers have to know you are trying the app. Foursquare does do this; I have Twitter turned off on Foursquare, but it still tweets out when I unlock a badge. Often my followers know I've unlocked a badge and I don't. I think we've got a chaotic system going now that will need some rules and etiquette if we are all to function in the social world. — Ms Manners

  6. Bullshit. Blame the user is bullshit. Make this stuff more obvious and make it TOTALLY opt in. It's not. The user is not to blame (totally) here.

  7. I see this as a leftover from the Facebook ecosystem where the early apps that spammed and tricked their users got the most installs – unfortunately, don't see this going away unless there is significant backlash for the apps.

  8. Speaking of spam, cell phone carrier Metro PCS spams their logo onto users Facebook accounts with every photo upload. So anytime a user posts a photo everybody gets to see the logo for their company as an additional upload. Pretty horrible business practice.

  9. I think you set the app to “check-in without prompt”. That “prompt” part has the comment option and twitter / facebook posting checkbox.

  10. i saw it on my android, the options of publishing it on facebook or tweeter. if i uncheck them it will not published. and YEs! you can also set the default on the web and the android phone will read it as well. i saw the option box right after you check in along with the shout box on android phone :)

  11. I don't believe for a minute that he didn't think about the effects of setting thing to be opt out or to make it hard not to not tweet. What happened is that they spent too much time thinking of all the percieved “good” to their business model and let that blind them to the negitive experiene for the user and in this case for the followers of the user. I see this time and again even from companies that I otherwise respect. The marketing people are just too in-love with the idea of going viral that they miss the point of happy customers. Almost every site you visit or piece of “free” software you download and install has some aspect that most people would not check if it were opt in. That scares marketing people whose metric is installs or messages Tweeted or what even but no “happy customer” metric. It's just too hard to messure “happy.”

  12. But Robert, 'Everything is opt-in on Listoria. Participating in the service is a choice… Please don’t share if you’re not comfortable.'

    Signed, Elliot Schrage on behalf of Listoria

  13. Well again it's the same problem as with FB and privacy options – too many controls and people freak out and agree to anything what is assigned by default. Too little control – privacy crusaders start stomping on FB's head.
    Same with all the apps. They have to find a balance not to break your experience of using the app smoothly by asking you all the time that tweet is going to be sent. However, the interaction policy with your twitter account should be also clearly stated.
    I think we are in the transition stage right now and applications will figure out a way to provide a better experience. For now we are stuck with uncertainty and careful TOS reading and profile customization.

  14. You're right in general but the real point here is that it's not everyday we get a chance to display a bit of schadenfreude at a slip-up by one quite as elevated as Scoble!

  15. You can shout and make phone calls and calls all the ruckus you want, but it's still your fault. YOU spammed your followers, not Foursquare or Listorious. Ignorance and “well, who reads everything” are not a valid excuses. Try telling a cop, “Who looks at every speed-limit sign?”, if you get pulled over for speeding or tell a Judge, “Who reads the fine print?”, if you get sued for violating a contract. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own actions. Social applications are meant to be just that, social. Opt-in by default makes sense and should be expected. And if you can't find settings on your Android app, you could always visit the services actual website. And before you start ranting about how everything you do is mobile, you can do this from, *gasp*, YOUR MOBILE WEB BROWSER!!! I'm 19 years old, not an internet or social media guru, and I could figure this out. If you couldn't, that's your own fault.

    1. Not true….we are the customer they are the product …it is their fault ..we shouldn’t have to police what they do…everything should be TURNED off …

    2. Not true….we are the customer they are the product …it is their fault ..we shouldn’t have to police what they do…everything should be TURNED off …

  16. Robert, you're right 100%. App developers are trying to get traction and it's tough in the trenches. This is no excuse to make it hard to notice for the user or hard to opt-out. It shouldn't be opt-in either.

    It's difficult to find a balance between limiting friction and being shady/spammy. Founders are under pressure to get traction and sometimes bad calls are made. I'm building an app right now and we are struggling with this as well. How do we set our default settings? How big of an impact our decisions will have on our virality and growth? I'm being honest here.

    We have decided to have it opt-out by default, in-addition we decided to alert our users after they published more than 3 events to Twitter/Facebook in 24 hours.

    Robert, I would love to get in touch with you and get your advice on the way we are integrating things before we launch. It's an important topic and your insights could be helpful. Shoot me an email at matt [at] taketake [dot] com

    Cheers!

  17. So “Reply and Tweet” wasn’t obvious enough as to what it was going to do? Come on, this was totally your fault. (Should there be more info if people want to know what it will do, yes) is there enough info to tell you that it’s going to send out a tweet, yes.

    ” Hey, do you read everything closely?” that is a really lame argument, it was a 3 word button “Reply and Tweet”, you couldn’t read 3 words?

    Own up to it, this was your fault. You tell everyone else to own up to their mistakes, how about you do the same.

    If you get pulled over for running a stop sign do you tell the cop that you didn’t read the full word “Stop” and you didn’t understand what it meant? Do you stop at red lights? Those don’t have words at all!

    How about the “Post as…” button below the add comment section on your own site, what is going to happen when I click that? I have no idea if it’s going to give me an option to login, to use facebook, to post anonymously. I actually don’t have a clue what it’s going to tell me, how about an option for more information?

    Suck it up, admit you were wrong.

  18. So “Reply and Tweet” wasn’t obvious enough as to what it was going to do? Come on, this was totally your fault. (Should there be more info if people want to know what it will do, yes) is there enough info to tell you that it’s going to send out a tweet, yes.

    ” Hey, do you read everything closely?” that is a really lame argument, it was a 3 word button “Reply and Tweet”, you couldn’t read 3 words?

    Own up to it, this was your fault. You tell everyone else to own up to their mistakes, how about you do the same.

    If you get pulled over for running a stop sign do you tell the cop that you didn’t read the full word “Stop” and you didn’t understand what it meant? Do you stop at red lights? Those don’t have words at all!

    How about the “Post as…” button below the add comment section on your own site, what is going to happen when I click that? I have no idea if it’s going to give me an option to login, to use facebook, to post anonymously. I actually don’t have a clue what it’s going to tell me, how about an option for more information?

    Suck it up, admit you were wrong.

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