In a little over a day, the social networking app Path has gone from facing a wave of criticism to riding a swell of praise over how it handles its users’ private data -- more specifically, address books uploaded from Apple iPhones to Path servers.
On Wednesday, Path’s chief executive and co-founder issued an apology on the San Francisco start-up’s blog and the company quickly deleted the collected user data and updated its iOS app, all while promising more transparency in how it collects and uses information from its users.
“We believe you should have control when it comes to sharing your personal information,” Morin said in the blog post. “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.
“In Path 2.0.6, released to the App Store today, you are prompted to opt in or out of sharing your phone’s contacts with our servers in order to find your friends and family on Path.”
The drama began on Tuesday after developer Arun Thampi discovered that Path was uploading the full names, emails and phone numbers of his contacts from his iPhone, without asking specifically for his permission to do so, as he was trying to build an OS X app for the popular mobile app.
Thampi detailed his findings in a blog post saying, “I’m not insinuating that Path is doing something nefarious with my address book but I feel quite violated that my address book is being held remotely on a third-party service. I love Path as an iOS app and I think there are some brilliant people working on it, but this seems a little creepy. I wonder how many other iOS apps actually do the same…"
Morin, a former Facebook executive, responded to Thampi in a comment on the blog post, saying, “Arun, thanks for pointing this out. We actually think this is an important conversation and take this very seriously. We upload the address book to our servers in order to help the user find and connect to their friends and family on Path quickly and efficiently as well as to notify them when friends and family join Path. Nothing more.”
Morin said in his response that it was the San Francisco-based company’s stance that “this type of friend finding & matching is important to the industry and that it is important that users clearly understand it, so we proactively rolled out an opt-in for this on our Android client a few weeks ago and are rolling out the opt-in for this in 2.0.6 of our iOS Client, pending App Store approval.”
Later, in another comment, Morin added that collecting such contact info from a user “is currently the industry best practice and the App Store guidelines do not specifically discuss contact information. However, as mentioned, we believe users need further transparency on how this works, so we’ve been proactively addressing this.”
On Tuesday, Morin’s original response wasn’t quite good enough for many in the tech press, as well as a number of users who complained in the comments of Thampi’s post as well as on other social networks.
“No matter why it was done, it sucks that it was done,” wrote a commenter identifying himself as Chris, in response to Thampi’s blog post.
“Hey Path, thanks for slurping up & hanging on to all of my contacts’ data without my permission,” wrote Twitter user @adjustafresh on Tuesday.
After Path’s quick update of its iOS app on Wednesday, many applauded the social network, which markets itself as a more privacy-focused alternative to publicly minded networks, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Brad McCarty, the managing editor of the Next Web, said on Twitter that Path’s response was a “class move.”
Tech pundit John Gruber said Morin’s apology and the app update were the “perfect response.”
In the Wednesday blog post from Path, Morin said that the company wasn’t collecting the data for malicious reasons, but rather to enable the “Add Friends” feature of the Path app to notify a user when a friend joins the social network.
“We made a mistake,” Morin said in the Wednesday post. “As our mission is to build the world’s first personal network, a trusted place for you to journal and share life with close friends and family, we take the storage and transmission of your personal information very, very seriously.”
For those who do decide to opt in to sharing their address book information with Path, to enable the Add Friends feature to work, later deleting the shared data is as easy as emailing email@example.com and asking that the contact information be removed, Morin said.
“Through the feedback we’ve received from all of you, we now understand that the way we had designed our ‘Add Friends’ feature was wrong.”