5 Shady Things You Had No Clue Your Favorite Apps Could Do
We live in an age in which you can do pretty much anything using a convenient smartphone app, from summoning pizza rolls at midnight to saying hi to your grandma on her birthday. That means we're trusting these companies with more and more of our private conversations, private information, and, uh, privates. Unfortunately, Facebook isn't the only tech giant that rewards our trust with pure dickery. Here are some ways your favorite apps might be screwing you at this very moment without you noticing.
iTunes Content You've Already Bought Can Disappear From Your Library
Based on the hype, the greatest advantage of buying your movies, shows, music, and naughty material over the internet is that things like availability aren't an issue anymore. There's no risk of anything being sold out, there's certainly no risk of getting a weird look from the store clerk, and as long as every single device you own doesn't spontaneously combust, the content you buy is yours forever and ever.
That is, unless you're using iTunes, in which case "bought" might not be the correct word.
A few months back, Anders G. da Silva wrote to Apple after losing three movies he'd purchased through the iTunes store. The initial response? They'd been Thanos'd out of his library because "the content provider has removed these movies from the Canadian Store," which meant da Silva could no longer watch them, even though he'd paid actual, non-disappearing money for them.
But don't worry! They offered da Silva a consolation prize! Namely, two credits for renting a movie. We'd complain about how much that blows, but the person in charge of that decision was probably really busy chasing down the last remaining owners of those movies through the badlands of Canada.
When CNET looked into this baffling cyber-heist, they discovered that the movies weren't gone from da Silva's account per se. Turns out he still owned the versions in the Australian store, since he lived in Australia when he bought the movies, but not the slightly different, presumably politer versions available in Canada. All he had to do now was somehow get an Australian billing address and credit card, switch his account to an Australian one (losing any credits or subscriptions he might have), download the movies to a device like some sort of caveman, and switch back to a Canadian account. So much more convenient than buying a Blu-ray!
It's Surprisingly Easy For Uber Drivers To Charge You A Fake "Vomit Tax"
The gig economy is nothing without honesty. Which is unfortunate, because as we're sure you're aware, people are terrible. Case in point: "vomit fraud," that hot new fad whereby Uber drivers throw a can of soup over the back seat of their cars and charge the latest rider an extra fee for "cleaning." Per Uber's policy, this can range anywhere from $80 for spilled or vomited drinks to $150 for a "Level 4 major bodily fluid mess," i.e. a Jackson Pollock situation.
It sounds dumb as hell, but it's a solid scam. After all, who would ruin their own car in order to fake claim that a passenger hurled over the luxurious upholstery of their 2007 Prius? Lots of people, it turns out. This has been reported in Miami, Tampa, New York, Los Angeles, and Australia (it probably wouldn't work so well if it was all Amish communities). In at least one case, a passenger was hit with this fee for a canceled ride, meaning she didn't even get to lay a fart on the car, let alone fluids.
But wouldn't this scam fall apart when riders check their receipts or credit card statements? Well, that's just the darnedest thing. Many people don't, and even if they do, what's their counter-argument? "No, I didn't throw up 'over the entire dashboard' like I was 'riding a roller coaster after consuming eight corn dogs and a keg.' Yes, I realize that's what someone who did all of that would also say." At least Uber has been good at standing up for ... the drivers making the claims, forcing the victims to send multiple emails before they get their money back. So one way or another, you're raising a stink.
A Soccer App Used People's Phone Mics To Look For Pirate Broadcasts
If you're a regular visitor to your local sports bar, there are a few things that you don't openly talk about -- the weird smell coming from the men's room, the questionable hand-washing practices of the fry cook, and above all else, the legal status of their cable. But as soccer fans in Spain recently found out, keeping their local watering holes' cable secrets now requires a little less tact and a little more "leaving the phones at home."
In a turn of events that would give Fox Mulder a rock-solid validation boner, the country's official soccer league app, La Liga, was found to be using GPS to detect when a phone had entered a bar during an Atletico Madrid or Barcelona game. It would then activate the phone's microphone to listen in for the sounds of soccer being played. If it didn't hear any, no foul (or anything else soccer-related, for that matter). If it did, the app then compared the phone's location against a list of nearby bars that had a license to broadcast games, narcing on any establishment that didn't.
For whatever reason, people didn't appreciate being turned into pawns of Big Brother's sports-obsessed cousin, and they bombarded the app with low scores. But that's only because soccer fans' usual method of resolving disputes didn't work here -- you can't really throw a bar stool through a phone screen, try as you might.
Instagram Is Spurring Restaurants To Create Distinctive-Looking Food (Which Tastes Awful)
These days, it's hard to go a week without some genius chef unveiling a new cool-looking culinary wonder. We're talking about rainbow unicorn frappuccinos, cronuts, gold-plated pizzas, rolled ice cream -- all spectacles designed to satisfy not just our appetites, but also our need for likes, shares, and whatever they do on Pinterest.
It's too bad, then, that most of this stuff tastes like absolute ass.
One side effect of the push by restaurants to make their offerings the trendiest, sprinkliest, most unimaginable things imaginable is that the onus has shifted from making food that tastes good to making food that looks good ... and those two wheels don't always intersect.
Take Starbucks' rainbow unicorn frappuccino, which derived most of its distinctive look from baristas adding shitloads of high-sugar syrups and artificial colors. The end result might have been so Instagrammable that many stores ran out, but according to those weirdos who actually drank it, it was everything from "an astringent whipped cloud of sour evil" to "sour birthday cake and shame" to being so flavorsome that it "made the rest of the drink curdle like expired milk."
Between this and the health risks, we have to ask: Was this Starbucks' ways of ending the War on Christmas before it began?
And then there's dishes like the Burger Cheesebomb, a burger entirely drenched in cheese fondue, or the offerings at Black Tap Burger & Beer in New York, which are comprised of milkshakes topped with entire slices of cake. All perfectly fine dishes for about one bite, until the novelty wears off and you're faced with having to eat the dairytastic monstrosity you paid $19 for. Hope those new Instagram followers are worth the diabetes.
Smart Home Devices Are Being Exploited By Abusive Partners In Terrifying Ways
George Orwell's 1984 centers around an oppressive, violent government that uses always-on surveillance not only to keep tabs on every citizen under its control, but to also dish out unimaginable pain and torment on dissenters. Unfortunately, such a setup does exist in today's world -- not in regards to state surveillance (although we're trying our hardest to get there), but in your favorite cutesily named smart home devices.
According to a recent expose by The New York Times, there's a growing trend in domestic violence cases for abusers to use smart home devices -- such as Hive and Nest -- to make their victims' existence a living hell, even after they've been kicked out of the home. From turning off air conditioners to turning up the thermostat to playing loud music through smart speakers to ringing doorbells to permalocking the front door to, of course, using cameras to spy on your every movement, it seems that the tools designed to sate our capacity for laziness can, in the wrongest of circumstances, be used to sate our capacity for cruelty.
The effects on victims can be devastating. One compared it to "jungle warfare," but without the jungle, since the attacks could come from anywhere. The worrying thing is that there are no obvious solutions to this problem. At first glance, you'd think one could simply change the settings to lock out the abuser or remove the smart devices altogether ... but it's hard to do that unless you have access to the account (guess who probably has that locked down tight?), can recognize that you're being abused, or even know if there are smart devices in your home.
Moreover, there's no sign that there's even a way of making this illegal. We only recently started cracking down on revenge porn, for crying out loud. How long do you think it's going to take the legal establishment to pick up on abusers using indentured virtual robots to harass people? Let's put it this way: We might have actual robots by that time.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
Kinda makes you want to go low-tech and just try some watercolors.
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