The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Push notifications are out of control

By Amanda Mull

25 May 2023 · 4 min read

informed Summary

  1. Push notifications are messengers and messages alike, and can be intrusive reminders to place bets.

A couple of years ago, I got a text from a friend that read simply, “This seems bad.” With it was a screenshot of something that did seem, at best, not great: an iPhone push notification from the sports-betting app DraftKings, laden with emoji and extolling the day’s promotional gambling deals. “Yikes,” I murmured at my phone screen. Sports betting had not yet been legalized in my state, so this was my first encounter with how betting apps would work, and in that moment, I felt not a little bit foolish. Of course they’d want to keep people wagering throughout the day. Of course there would be push notifications.

My instinctual dismay was, I thought, straightforward: For some people, gambling can become compulsive, and intrusive reminders to place bets did not seem healthy for those people. But I remember that screenshot from my friend so clearly because the sense of unease it inspired has persisted. Gambling apps are an extreme illustration of a much more widespread problem with push notifications. One study, conducted in 2013, found that the average smartphone user receives 80 advertisements, sale reminders, news alerts, social-media communiqués, and other pop-up messages a day. More conservative estimates still put the daily count around 50. They have become a defining feature of the smartphone and, thus, of modern life.

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