I just spammed all of my friends and family to install an app I had just uninstalled.
Installing new apps is a part of the job. It is rare that I will go through a whole day without deciding to check out an app I haven’t heard of before, and a lot of my friends will recommend stuff either for my opinion or to share a new cool thing. It’s rare that a new app finds a permanent home on my phone, but I like trying new things so I usually dive in without a ton of research.
Today that had an unfortunate side effect, and it’s actually part of a nasty spam wave hitting Facebook right now.
I got a notification from a friend to try out Chatous via Facebook. Tapping the link takes me right to the Play Store, where I see it is a messaging app that lets you talk with random people in your immediate physical area. It’s a simple enough app; you see a bubble with an avatar on it show up in a radar and tap to interact. There’s very little personal information shared in the account creation process, making it easy to be fairly anonymous while enjoying a conversation that could very well end in discovering shared interests with a local person. Overall, not the worst idea.
I quickly sent a message to my friends asking them to ignore it.
During the account setup process, Chatous pings your Facebook account and asks if you want to invite your friends into the app. I have never once in the history of ever wanted to do this, so I quickly dismissed the screen and went on to test some of the features of the app. There was only one person in my area using the app, and he seemed mostly interested in showing me photos of dog genitals, so I moved to uninstall the app. Alongside my Uninstall Complete notification was a new notification from Facebook, where a friend was asking me for more information about this app I had just sent them.
That’s right, even though I explicitly told this app to leave my friends alone, every single one of them got a notification from me inviting them to install this app.
I quickly sent a message to my friends asking them to ignore the previous notification and stay away from the app, and that’s when I saw this was not an isolated incident. Some of my friends had been getting this recommendation from others all day long, and a little further research revealed this was not isolated to Chatous. This is a common UI trick designed to spam people into installing your app, and the origin of the spam isn’t even aware this is happening unless someone tells them.
There’s not much that can be done about this right now, aside from letting your friends know not to trust app recommendations on Facebook, even from trusted friends. This user-hostile experience is an unfortunate form of notification spam that gets used because it works, and it’s the kind of thing that keeps people from trying any new apps at all.