Privacy, Perception, Path

Just before Thanksgiving, Path released v2 of their app. After months of listening to their users and sweating the details, they reinvented themselves with a brilliant interface (aesthetically and interaction-wise) and a few new directives to their intimate social networking app.

At the start of this week, a storm brewed when it was uncovered that they'd been digging around in our address books and downloading the contacts to their servers – all without user permission. There was a resounding cry from the interwebs that this is not cool.

It's not cool, however I also don't really care that Path did this. Don't get me wrong, the names, phone numbers and email addresses of those in my phone are not for anyone else to have but me; I don't disagree with the idea that what they were doing was inappropriate. But now that what's done is done… I don't care too much.

By Wednesday, Path had stopped taking address books and erased all the data they gathered. Even before these amends, Path's CEO did a terrific job managing the chaos of the week and engaging people responding to the controversy via twitter and various blogs. It speaks to the integrity of the company. The same detail and care they put into creating the app, they put into supporitng the community, and I greatly appreciate that attention.

I think the clean up of the mistake speaks to why I didn't "really care" that they'd taken my address book in the first place. The thing is, I trust Path. Path is doing a great job of creating a very personal social network; something I greatly want in my life. The noise free, intimate world within the app make me believe the company has my privacy as a core value.

There’s something else interesting here, grabbing a phone owner’s address book is allowed. Path isn’t hacking anything or being mischievous to get this address book. This process is allowed, by Apple for all apps. It's kinda weird, right?

Why is this acceptable to Apple? Shouldn't this be the focus, or at least a bigger complaint? Then again, it’s actually fairly easy to see why this would be acceptable… without this capability, I’m sure apps like LinkedIn, Facebook, Bump, and a many other social apps would be handicapped in their functionality. So, what do you do if you need to do something like this for your app, for your business?

First and foremost, you ask first. Path has moved to an opt-in choice for connecting you to people in your address book, that's a good decision. Second, just be classy, be respectful and pay close attention to your users and react appropriately and with care. Until this all goes wrong, and it probably will a couple of times, I’m just hoping that those who are taking my address book, my location or any other information, do so in a responsible and safe manner.