Easter weekend was pretty unremarkable, apart from all the times my iPhone told me the US government killed someone in a drone strike. Every time a deadly strike was carried out, a phone app called Metadata+ burst into life, sending push notifications and letting me know where the strike had occurred and who had been killed. This weekend, four strikes were carried out against suspected Al-Qaeda training camps in southern Yemen. The drone attacks have allegedly killed up to 30 people, including civilians.
Metadata+ first hit the scene in early February, when data artist and developer Josh Begley finally sneaked it into Apple's app store. Begley is also responsible for the @dronestream Twitter feed, which logs every reported US drone strike. The account also has a public API, which allows other designers to use its information to create data visualisations of attacks. Metadata+ takes that to the next level. Until recently, it also lay pretty dormant. Until this weekend.
Begley went through a series of rejections before finally using deceptive methods to get his app onto iTunes. In 2012, Apple initially dismissed Begley's app in 2012, labelling it "not useful or entertaining enough," and saying that it "did not appeal to a broad enough audience." Undeterred, Begley tried again, but was rejected for a second time on the basis that the app contained content that users may find objectionable. (Basically, drones are disturbing – who knew?)
Then in 2014, Begley created an empty app with absolutely no content at all, on purpose. He called it Ephemeral. Apple accepted it onto iTunes, and earlier this year he submitted another contentless app called Metadata+, and just added the drone update service afterwards.
Thanks to the app, you can now feel your phone vibrate in your pocket, and pull it out to find out what's happening in the world – except instead of a link to funny Vine, it's Metadata+ with a simple message like "After dawn prayers, three drone strikes shook Mafhad, killing 25 people (April 20, 2014)". Metadata+ slots in so easily with our constant stream of updates and phone notifications that our everyday communications take on a freakish and unsettling slant. It's like Twitter notifications for covert war – and it puts the strikes firmly at the centre of your consciousness.
Get the app here, and find out where drone strikes are being carried out, how often and what damage they're doing.
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot