Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Eudes, a web project manager, has a smartphone that switches automatically from 3G to Wi-Fi as soon as he’s near his office. It also downloads relevant newspaper articles just before he steps into the metro. Perhaps most importantly, Eudes is instantly notified when the coffee machine needs water.

This automated magic is thanks to IFTTT ("if this, then that"), one of the first, and most successful, systems that programmes tasks for the general public. The site’s numerous services allow users to automate functions of their professional and private life.

For the magic to work, you don’t even need to know how to code. "You can feel like you’re fiddling with the internet pipes when, in reality, you don’t even know the basics of coding," says Basile, a media entrepreneur.

To automatically save every e-mail attachment in a Dropbox account, all you need to do is click a few buttons.

There are other automated systems such as IFTTT. Zapier, for instance, offers "zaps" and Netvibes Dashboard Intelligence provides "potions" — all systems that offer users room to manoeuvre. They create a link between hundreds of services used daily — from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and messaging services to news monitoring tools such as Feedly and Diigo.

With the rise of connected services, traditional companies are eager to adapt to these changes. Whether it is makers of household appliances such as Whirlpool, LG and Samsung or manufacturers of connected cars such as BMW and Tesla, all these companies use IFTTT.

French train travel booking service Voyages-SNCF recently became the latest company to join IFTTT. It wants to offer new features to the public, such as the ability to programme the temperature of a passenger’s thermostat at home according to a train’s arrival time so that the passenger can arrive at a warm home after their journey.

Apple introduced an application in its most recent iPhone update that allows users to sync their connected objects and give them basic instructions.

Pokémon locations

When the popular Pokémon Go application was released, Eudes found a Twitter account run by a bot that would systematically tweet the locations of rare Pokémon creatures. "I immediately created a ‘recipe’ on IFTTT to get their location by e-mail when one appeared near my home. Unfortunately, I was at work more often than not," he says.

Through systems such as IFTTT, an e-mail can automatically be sent to a spouse when leaving work or a user can receive a notification when their spouse posts a picture on Instagram. Basile can imagine other applications: "There already are options in my e-mails that allow me to choose among a series of predefined answers to an invitation. I imagine the same could be done for those who don’t know how to flirt on Tinder. Sort of conversational bots that could suggest pick-up lines."

Programming addicts are getting closer to the dream of having a life entirely managed by computer. "I’m outsourcing part of my brain to these services," Basile says. "For me, there’s nothing scary about this optimisation. It enables me to remove all nonvalue-added tasks and to save time and peace of mind."

But the slightest malfunction can disturb this peace of mind. In 2014, the connected thermostat Nest was praised for its ability automatically to adjust to the habits of users.

But if users changed their habits, because of an illness for example, then it was a nightmare to change the settings.

Users are also worried about their privacy. Close to 1.5-million connections between applications and objects have been made on IFTTT since the service was created in 2012. This includes data from e-mail accounts and photos to contact lists and history records.

In its privacy policy, IFTTT says it "may share our data, including personal information about you with our partners".

We don’t know "what goes on inside the machine and that’s what scares me the most", Basile says. "I don’t even remember the kind of data I’ve given to all these sorts of services."

New York Times

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