Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Delete, delete, delete?
The year 2014 saw plenty of amazing technological advances—high-resolution brain maps, for instance. But in other corners of the technology universe, like smartphone app releases aimed at urban dwellers, a number of things went awry. The apps we've gathered below lie somewhere on the spectrum from awkward to awful. Let these be a lesson to you going forward into 2015, app developers.
The app MonkeyParking basically creates a black market for prime public parking spots in San Francisco. It lets people auction off spots they're currently occupying to fellow users who were willing to pay top dollar. Through the app, people can also rent out their driveways as parking spots. Critics of San Francisco's tech culture decried the app as just another way for the rich to turn the city's public amenities into "a playground for the wealthy." (This also prompted TechCrunch's Josh Constine to coin the term "jerktech").
Resy, ReservationHop, etc.
Last-minute reservations at some of the hottest restaurant might never be possible, but this year, reservation buying and swapping apps offered to help cut the long lines for a price. The Resy app, for example, allows customers (probably the same people who call a reservation "resy?") to get a table with little notice by paying extra. Founder Ben Leventhal argued to the L.A. Times that there is nothing really wrong with that.
"We're not trying to hold any table hostage or price gouge," Leventhal said. "We're just trying to put a fair price on a table."
Okay, but there are similar apps out there that do hold tables hostage. ReservationHop in San Francisco, for example, has generated outrage for the same reason that MonkeyParking did—they let people auction off primetime reservations.
i wonder if startups will eventually start squatting in emergency rooms and let people pay to get to the front of the line.— Selena Larson (@selenalarson) July 3, 2014
Naturally, someone made yet another 'ghetto tracker' app this year. This latest "poortal" was called SketchFactor, and followed its predecessors in trying to ensure that city dwellers are able to avoid the "sketchiest" part of town. The app relies on user testimonies to determine what's "sketchy," and thus has been criticized for facilitating racial profiling at the community level. The whole thing just seems... what's the word we're looking for....
The Good2Go app became so controversial that Apple pulled it from its online store within a few weeks. Its aim was to record consent before sexual encounters, but as Slate's Amanda Hess discovered when she tried it out, evaluating one's own sobriety and a partner's sexual desire in a four-minute questionnaire isn't very practical. More than anything else, the app was problematic because it logs one-time consent which may be revoked afterwards.
Following all these failures, it is being relaunched a second time as a purely educational tool.
To be fair, this app is performing a public service in Iceland, where it's entirely possible that the one (out of 300,000 people) you're about to go home with is somehow related to you. (That also explains why it's rated so highly in the Google store). Still, the Íslendingabók app offers plenty over which to cringe. Via its 'Incest Prevention Alarm,' it purports to help you make sure you're not about to sleep with a cousin (eww).
TIME's Marriage-Prediction App
My nosy aunts would love this app, and so would yours. That's why the TIME app that tells you when you're going to get married makes it on this list. The app uses your Facebook friends (especially the ones posting pictures of their weddings) to gauge this, which is exactly what my nosy aunt does with friends IRL. Why do we need this app again?
France plans to usher in the New Year by banning Uber. It's obviously not the first country the ride-sharing app has ticked off: Spain just outlawed it, South Korea indicted Uber's owner for violating transport laws, and India saw protests against an alleged rape by an Uber driver earlier this year. The company has alienated a lot of customers this year following a series of missteps, including an Uber executive who threatened journalists and the deployment of surge pricing during the hostage crisis in Sydney. Still, despite all the backlash, the app keeps bringing in tons of money.
Your Uber corporate crisis is arriving now.— Jason Gay (@jasonWSJ) November 18, 2014