The slow creep of ads into push notifications

On Thursday morning I received the following notification on my phone.

Two sentences, three brands. It appears that advertising is finally creeping into push notifications.

While I don’t believe it was TuneIn Radio’s intent to advertise, and they probably weren’t paid for it, what this seems to indicate is that notifications are an untapped outlet for advertisers, and this is deeply worrisome.

Ostensibly, Apple bans advertising in push notifications. In their App Store Review Guidelines, under 5.6: “Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind.”

Unfortunately, this underestimates the relentless evil of advertising. It cannot simply be contained. Like a dangerous solvent buried deep underground, it will inevitably corrode its container, seep into the soil, and poison everything. While Apple’s terms might block apps with obviously spammy notifications, there are plenty that already advertise to you.

The McDonald’s McD app, for example, sends you notifications about “exciting offers.”

Taco Bell’s app also sends them.

So does Starbucks’s app.

And 7 Eleven’s.

And Levi’s.

You get the idea. Was Apple being negligent while approving these Apps? Do they just have a very lax definition of what constitutes advertising? Do large corporations simply get a free pass? Who knows.

But back to that initial Pitchfork/Ace Hotel/Lexus adification. It was merely describing an event. Even if Apple took initiative and banned all of the above apps for violating their terms, brands are so fused into our culture that it’s almost impossible to eradicate them completely from notifications. It’s difficult to speak a sentence without referencing a brand. When everything is a brand, everything is an advertisement.

Turning off notifications isn’t even a solution. Some apps now notify you that your notifications are off every time you open them. Notifications are essentially mandatory. Facebook messenger has been doing this for a while. Alert! Your alerts are off!

The horror.

Soon¬†adifications will be normalized and loud and unavoidable. In a few years, when we’re all wearing smart watches, they’ll display immediately in front of us on our wrists. Then, not long after that, the ads might be injected directly into our blood. The future is miserable.