Monday, May 20, 2013

Power & Responsibility - When App Developers go bad.


Azumio Instant Heart Rate sent a tweet that I was about to die. I'm not. The app has been deleted. I'm angry.

When a programming Easter Egg backfires

This morning I had rather a shock.

Sat in my car in the car-park at work, I thought it'd be a giggle to check my heart rate with Azumio Instant Heart Rate.

This is a clever little app that uses the iPhone's camera and flash to read your heart rate directly from your fingertip. In fact, watching the spikes of the trace as it measures your heart rate is quite compulsive.

So I was delighted to find I was really chilled with a rate of 58 BPM, and thought I'd share it with the world via the app and twitter with the following comment. 
"Chilled before work. Who'd have thought it. #Monday"
Clicking share and authorising the app had the usual Twitter experience, but I was appalled when Twitter pinged that what had ACTUALLY been posted was
"Only 12 days to live. Why am I so chilled? :-/"
And then an advert for the App!

What the F**K! In what twisted parallel universe could a developer possibly think that was a fun and clever joke that would make someone upgrade to the paid version?

I deleted the rogue tweet within about 30 seconds, but that didn't stop one of my friends seeing it and immediately questioning it. Had I not had twitter running on my iPhone at the time, I might not have noticed this, and could have had friends and family all in pieces.

Actually, the developer of that little joke could well be in danger of some serious litigation - if a politician or celebrity suffered that little Easter Egg, then I would fully expect litigation with 6 figure damages if the tabloids got hold of it and ran with it without checking their sources. (How often have we seen that happen, after all ?!)

It may have been a fun idea at the time, but it's morally reprehensible. Had my wife seen that tweet, then I would be the one suing Azumio for the grief caused. The app removed my text entirely and replaced it with their own twisted marketing message, without giving me the chance to cancel or preview what was being sent.

Had it been a developer in my team that had put that in, then they'd be looking at a formal written warning - unless there'd actually been a complaint from a real customer, in which case they'd be shown the door. 

This little Easter Egg joke completely removed any trust I had in the app and the company that developed it.

I was about to upgrade to the Pro app. That's not going to happen now, and the Lite app has been deleted from my iPhone - so Azumio today lost a customer in the worst possible way - by breaking the trust of their user base.

Lessons to Learn

OK - so rant over - at least until I write some feedback on the app in the App Store, an email to the CEO of Azumio and a complaint about the affair to Twitter.

But what this does show is that for all the fun we can have as developers, it's our duty to be responsible to our customers. 

As developers, we're often in the background of a company's operations, but that makes us no less responsible for interactions with customers than the telephone staff. 

"With great (programming) power, 
                comes great (moral) responsibility"

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At 25 May, 2013 19:59, Anonymous bojan said...

Joel - I saw your post and would like to ask you to contact me at We would like to work with you to find out how this posting happened. I could assure you it was not coming from Azumio employees and it is first time that something like that happened to one of our users. I sincerely apologize and would like to ask you for help to find out what happened in this ridiculous case. Best, Bojan


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