Identity and geography

I live in the UK and I’m on an extended business trip to Australia. Like most people these days, I conduct most of life’s little chores through my mobile; or, at least, I’d like to.

I purchased an Australian SIM card at the airport. You’d think the simplest way to top it up would be via the telco’s app, wouldn’t you? Wrong. The telco’s app is only available to download in the App Store (or, even, to see, for that matter) with an Apple ID that’s Australian. Same story for the supermarket app, where I’d like to collect and spend loyalty points (a professional interest, you understand) and maybe order online. And the same for a global pizza brand, whose UK-specific app I already have (but they don’t deliver from Woking to Manly)*. I should mention that there was no such restriction for a leading bank’s app (but I should have brought my birth certificate along with my passport).

Why do any of these companies assume that no-one normally resident overseas would not have a need for their app? Why would they even care if I downloaded it without any use for it? Why would Apple indulge them in making these restrictions possible? And, given that I have an Australian SIM in the phone and Apple knows exactly where that phone is, why is a crude and incorrect judgement made on my potential app needs?

There are workarounds, of course. I could reconfigure my Apple ID to be associated with Australia. That would entail losing sterling credits on the various Apple services to which I subscribe (I’ve lost count of them) and starting again after an outlay of Aussie dollars. Frankly, I’d be terrified of losing my life history in the process. I could create a parallel Apple ID and even run it on the same phone. But logging in and out of IDs every time I want to use a different app isn’t my idea of fun. Or, I could run the two IDs on separate phones, but that would be expensive. Maybe that’s what Apple wants.

Like any hassle-inducing problem with software, it seems to be the underlying problem is one of incorrect analysis. I imagine that issues of language, currency and digital rights management got lumped together in one concept of country, and associated with the concept of identity in a more-or-less immutable fashion. And the country concept then got re-used as a totally inappropriate way of enabling app providers to target specific audiences—and, by extension, exclude others; who know, better than anyone, if a service is relevant to them. We here a lot—quite rightly—about exclusion of people from digital services on the basis of poverty, infirmity, and so on. But anyone can be excluded from anything by superficial analysis and careless design.

* When I placed my order via a browser, I was phoned up within minutes to say they couldn’t deliver in the rain. Now that really is a first-world problem.

1 comment

  1. I had a similar issue with an app for a taxi company in Malaysia. Of all people, tourists are probably more likely to use a taxi than a resident (who might be picked up by a family member)!

    One possible reason is that Apple doesn’t want users to be overwhelmed when they open the App Store. Imagine how many thousands of irrelevant apps there would be – the average user would only want to see apps that work in his/her country

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