Science & Technology

Smart Phone Drones

An app for that


Want real-time notifications about U.S. drone strikes, complete with body counts? There's an app for that. Just don't tell Apple.

The company rejected Drone+, created by New York University graduate student Josh Begley, three times before Begley found a workaround. Renaming the app Metadata+, Begley re-submitted it to Apple with no content or description, adding the app's drone-tracking capabilities only after gaining iTunes store approval. Now people can download the free app for real-time updates on every reported U.S. drone strike.

Begley pulls the data from ongoing records kept by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a journalistic nonprofit based in the United Kingdom.

Phone notifications include basic info about when and where drone strikes occur, along with how many people have been killed in an attack. For example, on April 20, 2014, in Yemen: "After dawn prayers, three drone strikes shook Mahfad, killing at least 25 people." It also plots each strike on a map.

Do people really want this information? That very question is what motivated Begley to create the app, as he explained in a February 2013 interview with MSNBC. "Even if we have access to this data…do we really want to be interrupted by it? Do we really want to be as connected to our foreign policy as we are to our smartphones?"

As of May 2014, Metadata+ had been downloaded at least 45,000 times. The app's corresponding Twitter account @dronestream has more than 28,000 followers.