Public shaming: Android 4.3 warns you about “unkillable” apps with persistent notifications

July 30, 2013
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As detailed by a Google engineer, Android 4.3 shows persistent notifications for all apps that ran in the background even after you close them. The change could prove very annoying for some users.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa notification shade

You may know that some Android applications run silently in the background even after you close them. These background apps can’t be stopped without killing their process, so Google normally requires them to display a persistent notification in the shade, so users are aware of this behavior.

The problem is many app developers don’t want their background running applications to display persistent notifications, simply because users generally prefer to keep their status bars uncluttered. Other devs want to hide their apps, so users don’t know they have a mostly useless process consuming battery in the background.

According to Google engineer Diane Hackborn, some devs found a workaround to avoid showing notifications, by designing their apps to “abuse” an API, so they will run in the background without triggering a notification.

Google contemplated force killing these sneaky applications, but there are already too many of them (including some big ones) to do so without compromising the user experience. Google’s engineers therefore decided to simply shame developers that abuse the system by displaying system generated notifications for their silent running apps:

Originally we were going to solve this by just being better at detecting this kind of malformed notification, and crashing the app like we do on other bad notifications. Unfortunately, there are too many applications doing this for that to be a viable approach. Instead, what we ultimately did in 4.3 is have the system put up its own notification when it detects this so that the user is aware of what is going on and the app doesn't have incentive any more to do this.
Diane Hackborn, Google

Starting with Android 4.3, all apps that run silently in the background, often referred as “unkillable” apps, will trigger persistent notifications. The goal is to force developers to either show their own persistent notifications or stop their apps from running in the background.

The initiative is certainly welcome. While many apps have legitimate reasons to run silently, with the seedier ones, users don’t actually benefit from having the process running in the background. The software just sits there, silently consuming battery and computing resources.

However, I can understand why some may balk at the idea. For Android 4.3 users, the immediate visible effect of this change will be more persistent notifications. I for one hate them, and I generally don’t use apps that show such notifications, unless I really need them. I think many other Android users feel the same, and in the long term, devs will feel the heat and give up hiding their apps.

I just wished there was a more user-friendly way to get there, perhaps a way to acknowledge and hide persistent notifications.

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