Smartphone Message Service Read Receipts — Stress Incarnate Or Peace Of Mind?

As messaging applications on smartphones continue to sidle into the territory previously occupied strictly by traditional SMS texting, users are being confronted with a sometimes uncomfortable proposition. Namely, that whoever is on the other end can see when you’ve read their message, and you can see if they’re ignoring you or not as well.

Buzzfeed‘s Matt Buchanan points out that there are already various services where you get a play-by-play of what the person on the other end is doing — Google Talk, iChat and Blackberry Messenger all show when someone is typing. So to some extent, we’re kind of used to that type of feedback.

Text messages, so far at least, are a haven for those of us who just don’t want to face the reality that the object of our affection has read and could likely be ignoring a carefully planned, totally breezy yet flirtatious text.

But that blissful ignorance could become a thing of the past, as phone users are increasingly turning to non-SMS services like iMessage, which allows iPhone users to send messages to each other via WiFi or a mobile network. There’s an option in the new version to turn on read receipts — but it means that others will be notified when you’ve read their message, and not the other way around, unless they’ve also turned on that function. Facebook messenger as well, now has a “Seen by” message attached to the bottom of missive you’ve sent.

Personally, I’d rather not have the knowledge forcefully imposed on me that someone else has or has not read my message. I prefer to invent reasons like “He probably fell into a pit of snakes and hit a hives of wasps on the way down and has no service,” than “He read it and hates me.” I also don’t want the guilt trip that comes with, “Oh, crap, I haven’t replied to that person yet…”

If phone carriers try to keep up with these services, SMS texts could go down the same path. Sure, it’s nice to know someone has received your message, but is it totally necessary to be informed that they’ve read it?

Texting Won’t Ever Be The Same [Buzzfeed]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Malik says:

    I think it would be more important that the person reading the message should have the ability to NOT send a read receipt

    • etz says:

      in which case the whole purpose of read receipts is completely and utterly unreliable and should just be done away with.

      FYI, I have my email client set to never respond to read receipt requests. I’ve been accused of “not reading my emails”. F You!!

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      Ditto. I don’t care if you’re paranoid that you want to see if I’ve read your message or not, I would prefer to have the option to decline your read receipt. Like something that asks if you want to respond to the read receipt or not.

    • MPD01605 says:

      In iMessage you do have that option. I don’t know about FB chat.

  2. Here to ruin your groove says:

    I forget which service it was (ICQ?) that allowed you to see what the other person was typing in real-time. That was pretty awkward.

    • nishioka says:

      I remember ICQ working like that if you started a chat (as opposed to just bouncing messages back and forth). That was indeed pretty strange.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        My memory is a bit fuzzy but wasn’t unix chat program like that too? I remember it being very awkward.

  3. Kat says:

    Aren’t there a few phones that already do this? Maybe not by sending a receipt but I thought Blackberry displayed your sent message differently if it had been read…..

    • Southern says:

      Most BBs (and smartphones) already track & display when your message has been successfully *delivered*, but not necessarily “read”.. Perhaps you’re thinking of delivery receipts?

  4. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    It’s just going to make me not want to open said messages. I don’t need anyone get pissed off that I didn’t acknowledge their precious literary creation within 3/5ths of a second

  5. Shenanigans Was Taken says:

    All I want is BlackBerry Messenger on all devices! Is that to much to ask RIM?!

    • Corinthos says:

      BBM is the only reason my coworkers took so long to switch to a nonBB. They have switched to androids and iphones now but sure there are still people who like their BBM enough to carry the phones for that alone.

  6. Donathius says:

    I can’t speak for other services but I know that iMessage does NOT send read receipts. It send received receipts. All it’s doing is confirming that the other phone has received the message. Not that the recipient has actually opened and read the message. Read receipts make it sound like the ones that Outlook does so that you can see when the recipient has actually opened the email. iMessage just confirms that the message was received.

    • Pinklette says:

      There’s an option that allows the sender to know when the message has been read, but it has to be turned on at the receiver’s end. It’s an option buried deep in the settings that isn’t turned on by default.

  7. Gambrinus says:

    Handcent SMS has an option to request a read receipt. I turned it on a long time ago, and have found that some people’s phones support it, and some don’t. More don’t than do. Frankly I’ve found having it a mixed blessing. Sometimes I find out someone’s avoiding me when I’d rather not have known.

  8. Blueskylaw says:

    “Namely, that whoever is on the other end can see when you’ve read their message, and you can see if they’re ignoring you or not as well. Google Talk, iChat and Blackberry Messenger all show when someone is typing.”

    Why on earth would I want something like this? Don’t we already give up enough of our privacy to companies like Facebook and their ilk?

  9. Rachacha says:

    When I started my new job, everyone in the office had “return receipt requested” enabled on every email. I immediately disabled the feature that would sent all reuturn receipts to the sender. I would do the same thing with SMS.

    At my old job, I had a coworker who would return receipt every e-mail which I also disabled sending, but as he was an annoying prick because he would call as soon as you “read” the email. I saved every email he sent me (10 years worth), and on my last day, I enabled sending return receipts, marked all of his messages as “unread” then marked them all as “read” which sent him close to 10,000 receipts all at once. I waited 5 minutes then deleted every email he sent which sent him another 10,000 notifications. He called up a few minutes later all pissed off. When I told him that several other people planned on doing the same thing, he immediately disabled return receipt requests.

  10. RayanneGraff says:

    Yeah, I wouldn’t want this feature AT ALL. Its better for my sanity & self-esteem to just tell myself that their phone died or they fell asleep. I always hated that feature on Myspace way back when, I blame it for making me feel like a stalker. Whenever someone wouldn’t write me back, I couldn’t help but check repeatedly see if it was read or unread. The worst was when it was read & they just didn’t write me back. I really don’t need that kind of stress with text messaging too :/

  11. Crackpot says:

    There is nothing significantly new about this technology – it has been in use by email software for years. The only real difference is that we’re talking about turning on read receipts for all messages, rather than approving or denying it one message at a time, when it’s requested by the sender.

    In my opinion, it should be something that can be disabled on a per-message basis, and something for which you must be prompted for approval prior to the message being sent. One of the oldest complaints about cell phones and pagers is that they are “electronic leashes”. What many folks didn’t seem to understand was that you can always choose to ignore a call, text, or voicemail. But with read receipt turned on, this is no longer the case, making it a *real* electronic leash. It’s a good thing the service allows you to turn it off, even if it’s not per-message.

    The stance this article takes is a little strange, though. Knowing whether or not someone has read your message is useful. Don’t expect people to not offer features because you’d rather remain ignorant. Desiring to keep your *own* read status hidden, however… that’s a big privacy concern.

  12. Geekybiker says:

    I’d much rather continue to be able to dodge texts. Plausible deniability.