Jul 21, 2015

    How a little app could get me killed

    IN AN attempt to be more organised, I recently began researching the various task-management tools available online. Altogether, I spent eight hours on the Internet - mainly because I got sidetracked, ended up on YouTube and spent about four hours watching an animated TV series that I used to be crazy about when I was six years old.

    Talk about being disorganised! Despite the detour down memory lane, I did manage to look at a bewildering array of task-management software: great and small, free and expensive, simple and complex…

    I dislike having too much choice. It can make the selection process tediously long. So, after escaping from the time-wasting clutches of YouTube, I gave up looking at product specifications and marketing fluff, and began focusing instead on user forums to find out what customers thought of their software purchases.

    I was originally drawn to the tool with the most attractive-looking interface - I am a woman, after all. However, it was branded difficult to use, according to some users.

    "This baby comes with more features than a space shuttle," wrote one disgruntled customer. "There's no point buying a task-management tool if you need another one just to keep track of the functions you need to learn."

    Finally, after reading a few more reviews, I opted for an app with the most basic of features. It is just marginally more sophisticated than a Post-it note.

    I pressed the download button and up popped the developer's terms of use.

    I do not know what other people do when they are planning to download software from the Internet, but I have never read the terms of use for any product.

    I usually assume that at least one of the people who purchased the product or service before me must have looked at the terms and found them OK.

    You know, the sort of person who can read a label on a cleaning product bottle and know immediately that Nonylphenol ethoxylate is the sort of ingredient that you should keep far away from your cheese sandwiches.

    Anyway, I am not sure what possessed me that day, but I decided to have a look at the terms of use for my chosen task-management tool. And what I discovered surprised me.

    One of the terms states: "Claims by users for compensation will not be recognised. Including damages for death, physical injury, harm to human health or breach of essential contractual obligations."

    This got me thinking. How on earth can something as innocuous as a little app designed to keep track of projects, deadlines, goals and appointments cause death or physical injury?

    I can imagine some sort of injury or fatality occurring when the software controlling the lights at a railway crossing malfunctions, causing two trains to collide. Or when the software responsible for the inflation of a car's airbags glitches during a head-on collision. Or when a radiation therapy machine's software goes awry and administers massive overdoses to unsuspecting patients.

    But a little app for managing tasks?

    It reminds me of a manufacturer of steam irons that includes the following warning with its products: "Never iron clothes while they are being worn!"

    Such a warning tells me that someone at some time ironed his clothes while wearing them, burned himself and tried to get compensation from the manufacturer.

    What next? Warning: "This iron should be used only for ironing wrinkled clothes. Please do not apply it to your face!"

    On second thought, I am now imagining a situation where my task-management tool crashes, causing a few of my deadline notifications to disappear into the ether. Unbeknown to me, a piece of work I promised to edit for a client does not show up on my schedule.

    This causes my client to lose a large contract. He is a teeny bit disgruntled with me, so he hires the local mafia to teach me a lesson. But their idea of a lesson involves putting my feet in a basin of quick-drying cement before throwing me into a river.

    If my children were to find out, they could sue the app's developers for negligence. But that would be highly unlikely, because only the fish nibbling on my decaying body at the bottom of the river would know that I had come to a murky end.

    Despite the feeling that my life could be in mortal danger, I have accepted the terms of use and downloaded the app. However, my motivation to be more organised has somehow disappeared.

    I think I will unwind for a while on YouTube.