Why is Pocket Casts Broken?

I used Pocket Casts as a podcatcher on my Android smartphones for a few years. A podcatcher searches for podcasts, downloads selectected podcasts, and plays podcasts. A podcast publisher stores podcasts. A podcast directory provides a list of podcasts and information about where the podcasts can be found for streaming and download. Who controls the broadcast and inserts advertising or skims and sells the data? A podcatcher finds feeds for users but does not create or control content,

Pocket Casts was developed and marketed by the Australian firm, Shifty Jelly, which had developed some useful and successful apps. I bought the paid version in August 2013 when Shifty Jelly moved to paid app model. The app began to disappoint me in 2019: the phone got hot and showed high battery use (this was noted in a Reddit thread); playback froze when I used the cast function to play it over my home audio. Others complained that some features disappeared.

In 2018, Pocket Casts was transformed from a podcatcher program to an app. An app can be convenient for a user or listener. An app works well for a middle peson who wants to collect data or sell ads. The best way to get this data without breaking privacy laws is to get the user to consent when the user signs up for a service. This is essential data to make surveillance economics work. An app requires a user to identify and consent to the use of data. A user id is a data key based on personally identifiable information. Ads served by an app will not be blocked by an ad blocker.

The journalists at the Android Police cover the sale of Pocket Casts May 8, 2018, starting a year of coverage of what was happening to Pocket Casts. The principals of Shifty Jelly announced a partnership with “a combined group comprised of WNYC, NPR, WBEZ and This American Life” in a blog post May 4, 2018 after NPR announced that NPR and some of its member or affiliate organizations had acquired Pocket Casts and were going to improve it. Rumours and beta releases of a new version to implement Android “material design; changes to the functionality of the paid app. Searching “Pocket Casts” in outlets like Android Authority in 2018 and 2019 will bring up a score of stories. The release of the “upgraded” version 7 in March 2019 broke Pocket Casts. Version 7 of Pocket Casts may have been rushed to let the new owner start data mining. After the installation, Pocket Casts began to nag to create an account and log in to a Web service.

I found Player FM as a replacement for PocketCasts. It would not start without creating an account and logging in with a third party service but, it did not have bugs that Pocket Casts did. Many apps require a login with Google or Facebook.

If Android apps are not upgraded and maintained, they will cease to function, or lack the features of other apps providing a similiar service. The Google Play store makes an effort to prevent apps becoming sources of malware but does not assure users that apps are durable. A developer’s obligations are limited. The person acquiring an app in the Play Store can assume an app is functional when installed but has to trust the developer to upgrade the app. A developer may not have the resources. A developer with a good reputation may fail, or sell its IP to financial capitalists who have ideas on how to make more money for the service they offer. An Android app will generate revenue when the app will stream ads or generate marketable data.

I have an Android streaming box. The home page is an Android TV App launcher skin. It came preloaded with “home screen channels” presenting rows of “Play Next” links – suggestions – from Netflix, Amazon Prime and Google Play. These channels can be turned off. These channels extend the services onto the device home page, even when the Apps themselves are not otherwise active. For about 3-4 weeks, a Google App Store “App Spotlight” channel would show up every time I turned the box on, even after I switched it off on the previous session. There was a Reddit – people suggested turning off Google Play services updates to kill the zombie channel. Others thought that Google would patch it.

The services want my attention, even when I have other ideas of how to spend my time and what to watch. I used to think when I bought a device I owned it and could control it. But the companies think I owe a company my time to take pitches for new content and services.


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