Safaricom subscribers may soon be able to stop automatic Play Store app updates via short code

When you set up a new Android device, there are a couple of settings that are usually turned on by default and the onus is usually on the device user to know better and wade through the settings app or other respective applications, turning them off.

Like, for instance, most times, the display is set to be turned off after just 30 seconds of no user interaction, the lock screen is set to show all notifications, location is turned on and passwords are set to be shown as they are being keyed in. I could go on and on.

One of the most notable of such features happens to be in the Google Play Store. There, devices are set to automatically download apps over any network, put their duplicate shortcuts on the home screen as well as auto-update them. This is even though users can still opt to change their preferences to either be asked every time such an action is being taken, doing so only over Wi-Fi or, in the case of app auto-updates, not do anything at all.

The end result has been chaos. Users who are in the know of course barely have issues with such an arrangement. They have learned to live with it for so long now, almost a decade. Those who are not in the know, and who are often the majority, end up suffering.

You buy a 100 megabyte data bundle, for instance, to do something. Like, say, hop onto WhatsApp or watch a certain video on YouTube then before you can even do anything, you get the dreaded notification that your data bundle has already been used up. What do you do next? Hop on to social media and call the mobile network operator all sorts of names yet when you do the math, the data has actually been used on your device. Unbeknownst to you, your apps happily updated in the background.

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Now, two things can happen here. Either there can be a concerted effort to educate users about what’s going on in the background and eating up their data or something else can be done to address the issue. In the case of Safaricom, it has done the former over the past year repeatedly, even releasing a data manager tool to prevent airtime being used up when a data bundle is depleted as well as including a data usage meter in its mobile app to help users see where their data is being spent. As if that’s not enough, it appears, the company is going a step further and doing something else as well: building a short code that will let users opt out of automatic app updates on the Google Play Store.

An internal test of the feature shows that it will work just like how the data manager tool and other data-centred products from Safaricom have been made available previously: through the *544# short code. If it manages to successfully exit its testing phase and roll out to everyone, and we can only hope that that will happen soon, users will be presented with a menu option to stop Google Play Store updates in the data manager.

The working mechanism is still not clear at this point but we have seen Safaricom link up with Google to make it possible to pay for apps on the Play Store via M-Pesa so this shouldn’t be that hard to pull off.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this development to see how it all pans out.

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