We'd like to congratulate smartphone only, micro-social network Path on its first mini-scandal, as it signals a sort of ascent to relevance in the social networking world. What originally started as a photo-sharing service for a group of 50 friends back in November of 2010 has seen a significant increase in notoriety since its relaunch and redesign, which expanded the network to 150 friends and added other sharing features. In a little more than two months the platform has doubled to 2 million users, and, just like a grown-up social network, it has gotten itself involved in a controversy that has the Internet talking.
After playing around with Path, hackers at the Anideo hackathon discovered that the iPhone application automatically downloads one's entire phone book to the site's servers -- sans permission. The move has bloggers crying privacy breach. "I feel quite violated that my address book is being held remotely on a third-party service," writes Matt Gemel, the hacker who discovered the issue. "This seems a little creepy," he continues. This has also brought up questions of what the company would do with that information and how much of our data we want to share with these networks -- philosophical discussions usually reserved for the big players, like Facebook. But enough people care about and use Path to find the move egregious and worthy of these debates.
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 effeciently [sic] as well as to notify them when friends and family join Path. Nothing more.
We believe 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.
Good damage control from Path, with Morin both giving a reasonable explanation and fixing the problem. Scandal over? Not for everyone, but Gizmodo commenter and presumed Pathster David Ma buys it, forgiving young Path for the misstep. "I think it is less malicious and Path simply wasn't thinking. Once someone pointed it out, they were probably like, 'Crap, yeah, that probably is a bad way of doing it...'" he reasons. "Not everything needs to be with malicious intent. Sometimes, people just have a dumb moment."
But, dumb moments matter for companies that have users (and bloggers) watching. For Path, test-drives will no longer go unnoticed, which is a good sign for the aspiring social network player -- even if it has to soldier through a mini-scandal in the meantime.