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.

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. This is seriously messed up I’ve had this happen to many times. It’s time for EVERY setting on every app. to be “OPT OUT” by default. If I want it to tweet to my account then I’ll go looking for it. Sorry to hear that Scoble.

  2. This is seriously messed up I’ve had this happen to many times. It’s time for EVERY setting on every app. to be “OPT OUT” by default. If I want it to tweet to my account then I’ll go looking for it. Sorry to hear that Scoble.

  3. I have to agree with Mr. Soucie. From your post:

    “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.”

    First off, yes, I do read things closely, particularly on the web, and particularly when I’m using a service for the first time. You didn’t notice, and I suppose that’s fine. Suggesting that they’re not adequately disclosing what’s going to happen when you click the button, though, is nonsense. Suggesting that, even if you had read the button, you wouldn’t have understood that “Reply and Tweet” means “post this here and also on Twitter” is astonishing.

    Every Thanksgiving a not insignificant number of people drop a frozen turkey into a vat of boiling grease and the resulting explosion creates a fire of such ferocity that it usually burns the house to the ground. Are you going to champion them next?

  4. I have to agree with Mr. Soucie. From your post:

    “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.”

    First off, yes, I do read things closely, particularly on the web, and particularly when I’m using a service for the first time. You didn’t notice, and I suppose that’s fine. Suggesting that they’re not adequately disclosing what’s going to happen when you click the button, though, is nonsense. Suggesting that, even if you had read the button, you wouldn’t have understood that “Reply and Tweet” means “post this here and also on Twitter” is astonishing.

    Every Thanksgiving a not insignificant number of people drop a frozen turkey into a vat of boiling grease and the resulting explosion creates a fire of such ferocity that it usually burns the house to the ground. Are you going to champion them next?

  5. Are they just following Facebook's lead? Everything is “open”, which means you want to share everything, all the time, without having to think about it?

    I don't like these kinds of defaults either. I should have to opt IN, not OUT.

    Thanks for writing about this Robert.

  6. 'Reply and tweet'. That seems pretty straightforward. What else would it do? But yes, I agree, sites should give greater (and more transparent) control when it comes to issues like this.

    To go from evangelist to blocking it is a tad drastic don't you think? It wasn't entirely their fault imho.

  7. It is TOTALLY their fault. All these app developers WANT to build viral features that get you to spam your friends. They want to make it hard to figure out and hard to control and hard to turn off.

  8. If anything these services should allow you to send selected content to Twitter. “Send this question to Twitter?” “You earned the X Badge, Tweet it?” As well as add filtering for those who don't even want to be bothered with it.

  9. When you tweeted that you liked the new look of Listorius I went over to check it out. Presented with the oAuth login I left because I couldn't see a reason why it wanted to update my twitter account. I wasn't even going to spend time looking for an off button as I suspected the default was on.

    These days unfortunately I don't start applications by giving my trust.

  10. I totally agree! More apps these days want to get people to use them by spamming a user's friends with information, hoping that those friends will find that extra cool and go join themselves. I think this attitude will hurt those apps in the long run because high profile users will stop using them when they see endless complaints… Good writing!

  11. I'll take autobot spam over retweets any day. Course I agree that it should be clearer that you are spamming twitter.

    Then again, you had to fill out your twitter name and password in order for it to ping your account, so it shouldn't have been a complete surprise.

  12. They are NOT obvious on the Android app. I'm looking right now and can't find the setting. Foursquare sent out a mayorship announcement on my behalf the other night. Really nasty.

    1. had the same problem, i connected my facebook acct to my 4sq acct to check for friends on the service. Then the other night i was out, checked in somewhere (but was careful to NOT tell my friends, twitter or facebook) became the mayor & boom – 4sq decided to post i became mayor to my facebook & twitter streams causing ppl who i DIDNT want to know where i was – know exactly where i was….

    2. had the same problem, i connected my facebook acct to my 4sq acct to check for friends on the service. Then the other night i was out, checked in somewhere (but was careful to NOT tell my friends, twitter or facebook) became the mayor & boom – 4sq decided to post i became mayor to my facebook & twitter streams causing ppl who i DIDNT want to know where i was – know exactly where i was….

  13. I'm sorry, but it's perfectly clear on Foursquare (at least on the iPhone app), when you sign up for the service and when you check in somewhere. Formspring (similar to Listorius as far as I can tell) also clearly gives you options for posting to Twitter/Facebook. Automatic posting and making it hard to turn off I would agree is absolutely not on, but people have to take responsibility for the choices that they make. I'd also echo your plea that Twitter should give us the option of blocking terms, but then who uses the raw interface these days? Plenty of other apps do let you filter.

  14. At least in FourSquare's defense their tweets about becoming a mayor and winning a badge are limited, unless you're some kind of transient or traveling salesman.

  15. It was good speaking with you on the phone. I hope that my apology for the confusion, my team's track record making quality products on Twitter for over a two years, and our upcoming change will be enough to earn back your trust.

    We design products rapidly and thought that putting “Reply and Tweet” (screenshot of box in question: http://drop.io/listoriousui/asset/reply-and-twe…) on the button would be clear. After seeing the confusion, we're adding a checkbox to tweet it so it will be very clear. Thanks for bringing the issue to our attention.

  16. The iPhone app was clear. The Android app is NOT. I just went to the web page and changed my settings there. I swear I set them before NOT to tweet out. But I think the Android app reset them.

  17. I can see no need for the apps to spam like that. I don't mind apps tweeting automatically, but that's only when I've *done* something. Posted a message/comment with there being a tick box asking whether to tweet (don't mind if it's ticked automatically, just so it's an option).

  18. Also, sometimes you set stuff without really understanding the consequences. Listorious didn't warn me what the consequences would be “we'll send all your answers over to Twitter too, so beware.” These services WANT You to spam your Twitter followers so they make it a bit hard to figure out what the consequences are.

    1. Sure, so you start by doing it slowly, one thing at a time. If the app is doing something you don’t want, go back and change the settings, or stop using it until you sort it out. I’m not entirely in disagreement with you on this, and it’s not on. However, people *have* to take responsibility for their own actions and choices.

    2. Sure, so you start by doing it slowly, one thing at a time. If the app is doing something you don’t want, go back and change the settings, or stop using it until you sort it out. I’m not entirely in disagreement with you on this, and it’s not on. However, people *have* to take responsibility for their own actions and choices.

  19. When you signup on Foursquare, you select if you want it to send out. Also on the screen, you should have a Twitter and FB icon. if greyed out they dont tweet, if highlighted they do. If yours hasnt been tweeting and then did that night, i'm going to say its user error.

  20. Totally agree with you, Robert. I was so glad when the latest versions of Tweetdeck added global filters so I don't have to see Foursquare updates (among other things) anymore. That the default is opt-in for certain sites like Listorious is a huge problem. Social media in particular has gotten to the point where filters are becoming a necessity. Search results, too. So many companies have bought popular keywords that many search results are becoming borderline useless to me. I wrote about this very thing a while back, if you're interested: http://j5h.us/n

  21. I agree with you on the fact that developers want to shove viral features into apps in order to beguile unknowing twitter users to tweet. And I can imagine them making it hard to turn off, for precisely that reason.

  22. Account settings aren't in any of the apps (The API doesn't have an endpoint for it). I dunno, just seems obvious to me that if a website needs a setting changed I, you know, go to that website.

  23. I think we're seeing Twitter clients respond to this kind of thing. Tweetdeck has added a global filter and at Twitterfall we've supported global exclusions (http://twitterfall.com/featurepage.html#excludi…) for quite some time. The next step might be for these filters to also allow filtering by service, e.g. service:foursquare much the same as you could do on Friendfeed (and I think Google Buzz?).

    Hey, I just gave myself an idea for a feature on Twitterfall.

  24. What about those of us who don't use the Web much anymore. Certainly not for location-based services. I never even thought of going to foursquare.com for that. I kept looking on my Android phone for it.

  25. It was an opt-in. Hence the “reply and tweet”
    It should be more obvious that it was an opt-in. Both parties are at fault.

  26. It was NOT opt in. I never remember Listorious telling me it would Tweet every answer because I approved something. Anyway, Gregory knows he didn't make it clear enough (see his answer here).

  27. Is the Mayorship a different setting than telling your friends when you check-in? Cause there's a spot for turning off friend notification in the preferences…

  28. On Foursquare, just go on Settings from PC (not from smartphone) and uncheck the boxes allowing it to send tweets everytime you checkin or become mayor. You can always decide if you want to send a specific checkin-tweet (at least it is possible on Symbian).

  29. You don't remember them telling you, except for where it said “reply and tweet”… You made a mistake by not reading. Own up to it…

  30. as said before there is no endpoint on foursquare API to do that. However there is Additional settings option on the settings screen which will take you there

  31. No android app doesn't reset twitter settings. If your twitter account is link to foursquare and you uncheck the box on the server – tweet is not set, unless you check “tell twitter” from the checkin screen. In such case tweet gonna be send but once and just for that checkin.

  32. viral spread is determined by satisfied users/subscribers not driven by applications looking to push their message. Forcing users is a strategy that will ultimately backfire.

  33. it's common enough that I always check. If you've entered your twitter info then you need to check when it's set to post. and when posting I read before I click. Example. I believe it's 4square were if you check-in, by default there is a switch set to post to twitter or facebook. But it's not hidden and I haven't encountered a case were it was. Even this case, you can to have provided twitter information AND you were clicking on a “post and tweet” button. there was no subterfuge.

  34. Really? The settings look pretty obvious to me. YOU set up your own foursquare setting–
    Send a tweet when:
    * I check-in
    * I become mayor
    * I unlock a badge

    facebook
    Linked to: <your fb acct>
    Update my stream when:
    * I check-in
    * I become mayor
    * I unlock a badge

    And on the Android app, you get to choose whenever you check in. The default is only to spam your foursquare friends, but allows you to add tweets and fb updates.

    I agree that the nature of social sharing is inherently spammy, but if you really want totally control over your social stream stick to a single point of entry and update entirely manually. It would seem that the intent of web3.0 is to become even more information saturated. Keeping this in check will be key.

  35. I thought opt-in means you aren't included in the functionality, unless you explicitly click on some button (hence opting into it). Or, did I have too much coffee and am totally out of my mind?

  36. Just to play devil's advocate, isn't that like saying people who don't know how to operate the remote controls for VCRs at fault for not reading the instructions?

    Regardless of who's “fault” it is, a great product is one that doesn't need instructions, IMHO.

  37. “Also, sometimes you set stuff without really understanding the consequences.”

    If your'e going to play with fire you ought to expect get burned from time to time – especially if you don't take the trouble to try and understand the consequences of your actions.

  38. OMG all developers who are commenting need to SHUT UP now. Developers rarely listen to users when they make something and this comment thread is proof. Scoble said TWICE he's not using the web to get to the app — are you paying attention? In another year no one will go to your web site to do anything, they'll be doing it from a gadget in their hand and the web will be everywhere connected to everything. Whatever your app does, it should be transparent to the user all the time. Don't hide behind caveat emptor.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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!

  42. 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 …

  43. 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!

  44. 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.

  45. 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

  46. 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.”

  47. 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 :)

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

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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 :-)

  56. 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.