Silicon valley tech companies like Facebook, Google and Snapchat have been accused of using underhand tactics to make us addicted to our smartphones.
According to Tristan Harris, a former programmer at Google, tech companies use the same kind of tactics seen in the casino industry that ensure people keep coming back for more.
According to Harris, tech companies use a phenomenon known as ‘brain hacking’ to keep us hooked.
Harris, who was speaking to CBS News, gives a rare insight into the lengths the world’s biggest tech companies go to make sure we become dependant on their apps.
Harris also said that the tactics used by tech companies are: “weakening our relationships to each other’ and ‘destroying our kids ability to focus”.
“And so you could ask when these features are being designed, are they designed to most help people live their life?” he added.
“Or are they being designed because they’re best at hooking people into using the product?”
Harris then compared smartphones to slot machines.
“Well every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see, “What did I get?” This is one way to hijack people’s minds and create a habit, to form a habit”, he said.
“What you do is you make it so when someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward, an exciting reward”.
“And it turns out that this design technique can be embedded inside of all these products”.
The tricks are similar to those used by the gaming and casino industry, with Silicon Valley programmers replicating the rush of winning by adding features to apps like Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook that are designed to excite the brain.
For example, on Facebook users are notified about ‘Likes’, on Twitter users build up followers and on Snapchat users are scored on how much you use the app.
These type of features are purposely designed to create habits, Harris claimed.
He gave the example of Snapchat, the video messaging app popular with teenagers. Snapchat previously added a feature called Streaks, which shows the amount of consecutive days you have interacted with friends on the app.
The feature makes users, especially children feel like they don’t want to lose their ‘streak’, which in turn makes them keep on using the app.
Harris said that in this example it is as much about anxiety, rather than rewards that ensures people return to apps over and over, playing on that fear they are missing out on something if they don’t.
Pokemon Go also has a similar feature that rewards for playing the game on consecutive days.
“The problem is that kids feel like, “Well, now I don’t want to lose my streak.”
“It turns out that kids actually when they go on vacation are so stressed about their streak that they actually give their password to, like, five other kids to keep their streaks going on their behalf.
“And so you could ask when these features are being designed, are they designed to most help people live their life? Or are they being designed because they’re best at hooking people into using the product?”
Jonathan is our Google Nexus and Android enthusiast. He is also fanatical about football which makes it all the more strange that he should support Stockport County. In addition to writing about tech, Jonathan has a passion for fitness and nutrition and has previously written for one the UK’s leading watch and horology websites.