Yesterday, one of the biggest news stories was about one of the tech world’s media darlings: Path. It turned out that within their iPhone application, Path had been importing whole contact address books from users into their system. This lead to a big uproar within the community and has some even raising the issue about user privacy. Of course, this whole conundrum about privacy isn’t lost on me since I penned a post saying that I felt that Path’s saving grace over being “just another Facebook” was that it was a private social network…only 150 people of my dearest and closest friends would see the photos and thoughts unfiltered. Well if, on one of the biggest platforms out there, Path purposely (or unintentionally) imported contact information into their servers, then that would clearly raise some cause for concern.
How serious has this become? Well so big that one of Path’s investors, CrunchFund’s head and founder of TechCrunch, Michael Arrington, has published a blog post stating that Path’s founders, Dave Morin and Matt Van Horn, should immediately “nuke” the data in the servers. However, one needs to wonder whether all the hoopla was over the fact that Path imported the address book contacts or if it was that they didn’t give users an option to either opt-in or opt-out (I personally would have liked to have seen it be opt-out by default). And I notice that there are some significant differences between Path’s iPhone version and their Android cousin — for one, I’m asked whether I want to add certain people from my address book on Android. There was never this problem for these devices. Nevertheless, now that this error has been done, Path should probably purge the lists and invite people to do so, but only after making it 100% clear what’s going to happen with this data and reassure people as to the benefit.
And they’ve stated that they’ve done so and put their money where their mouth is:
We believe you should have control when it comes to sharing your personal information. We also believe that actions speak louder than words. So, as a clear signal of our commitment to your privacy, we’ve deleted the entire collection of user uploaded contact information from our servers. Your trust matters to us and we want you to feel completely in control of your information on Path.
TechCrunch writer and CrunchFund partner MG Seigler wrote that while we’re up in arms over the privacy concerns (while totally valid and justified), we might want to step back and analyze the situation to see why Path did what they did–basically we need both sides of the argument:
One thing overshadowed by this situation is that there’s a reason Path was doing this — and it was anything but nefarious: it makes the service more useful. Path is about your personal connections and the best way to establish those connections is for Path to find your true friends also on the network. What’s a great signal if someone is a true friend? If their information is in your address book and if you’re in their’s.
And he’s right…Path is designed to offer us more signal than noise and only those chosen few who we entrust with our phone numbers and reciprocate and place their numbers in our address book are probably more likely to interact with us on a private social network like Path. Nevertheless, Path’s Dave Morin has quickly and publicly apologized for this incident and admitted their mistake.
Whether people accept it or not remains to be seen. Jeremy Toeman from LIVEdigitally thinks Path has betrayed his trust…he didn’t want to publish photos of his kids on Facebook and may have decided to use Path for this, but since this issue arose, privacy fears have come back. When I read his post, he’s right…Path is also at the crossroads and will need to be firm on what their stance on privacy is. With this issue plaguing Path for a while, will people be a bit more timid in using the service? Or does anyone really care and believe that privacy is dead?
No matter the answer to that, Path is learning from its mistakes, getting more users, and chugging forward.