16/08/2016 12:55 BST | Updated 17/08/2017 06:12 BST

Google's New Video Calling App Duo Is Basically Just Social Blackmail


Google has a brand-new video calling app. It's called Duo and on the surface, it looks to be one of the simplest, easiest and most impressive apps for bringing video calling into the mainstream.

It's designed solely for mobile, doesn't need a Google account and can be set up using just your phone number. What's more it works perfectly across both iPhones and Android smartphones.

Sounds too good to be true right?

Well yes, obviously. You see Google, in its infinite wisdom has included a rather neat little trick with Duo which it has called Knock Knock. It's a feature that means when a person calls you through Duo, it send the live video feed from their end straight to your screen.

Here's a handy little gif to show you what it looks like:

Isn't that lovely? There's Mike with those surprise tickets, and what about Mary with her hilarious little flipbook animation that she presumably spent most of the afternoon doing instead of any actual work.

The problem with both of these examples, and indeed with the feature as a whole is that it's indicative of Silicon Valley's warped view of us as humans.

Personally I can't think of anything more socially humiliating than being on the loo, seeing my phone go off and realising that staring back at me are my girlfriend and her assorted family. I mean I can't answer it, of course I can't, and yet while they will have no idea what I'm doing, I will.

Do I just ignore it? Or do I hang up on them, digitally face palming my other half and her closest relatives who are unawares grinning at my currently crimson face. I just wanted to go to the loo in peace.

That's an extreme example I realise, however you surely see where I'm heading with this. What happened if Mary's recipient turned out to be in a busy meeting because she wasn't wasting her afternoon making paper animations?

Or what if actually, the absolute last thing Mike's intended victim wanted to see was those tickets, or indeed Mike for that matter. There's a fundamental difference between seeing a contact image or a name on the screen and the person physically manifesting themselves there, live. It's social blackmail, that's what it is.

The great news is that Knock Knock is an entirely optional feature - you can turn it off. That said, the fact it exists at all shows that companies like Google, Apple, Facebook continue to create services and features for perfect humans despite the fact we're all secretly terrible people.

Last year I pondered on this thought when both Apple and Google started launching their respective cloud services. I noted that it was fantastically naive to set a person's photo album as being synced to all their devices by default.

family holiday

If only your smartphone was filled with loving holiday photos like this 100 per cent real family.

It assumes that the only pictures we'll have on our phones are of beautiful family holidays and hilarious work parties where the worst thing that happens is Jeff turns a balloon into a dubious shape.

In reality Jeff's throwing up in the corner and your boss has just ordered vast quantities of something that stinks of petrol and glows in the dark. It's a HR nightmare waiting to happen.

I'm all for new innovation, but please let's try and be realistic.