Path did the right thing - eventually

Features Marin Perez 11:59, Feb 10 2012

Path apologized and did the right thing, but it still shouldn’t be excused for its privacy transgressions

Now that Path has apologized and deleted any address book data that it had on its servers, it’s easy to look back and say that this issue was overblown. I don’t think it should be let off the hook that easily and that this issue brings up larger concerns about how our privacy expectations are changing. 

Honestly, the Path deal didn’t really matter to that many people, as it only has two million users - even if some users are some of the most influential people in the tech space. In its apology, Path nuked the data it was holding and said it understood “that the way we had designed our ‘Add Friends’ feature was wrong.” 

I want to accept Path at its word, but this really seems like more of a public relations move than an actual philosophical shift. 

In the original response to the news, Path CEO Dave Morin said, “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.” He then goes on to say that an opt-in version is on the way. 

To understand Path and its CEO, you have to know that he comes from Facebook, where the culture is to get as much information about your users first and then ask for forgiveness later if users get upset. It’s not surprising that Path and Morin wouldn’t even realize there was something wrong with uploading and storing all of your contacts on its servers without letting you know. This privacy blind spot may be cultural. 

We’re all on shifting sands when it comes to our privacy and what we consider acceptable. Google’s a very cute company that has “do no evil” as its motto, but it makes billions of dollars by selling your information to advertisers. Facebook is a great way to connect with old and new friends, but it also sells your personal information to advertisers. Path will likely follow a similar business model unless it gets purchased by Google or Facebook before it ever has to worry about trivial things like making money. 

I don’t think that the Path, Google or Facebook business models are wrong but it’s very important that these companies be transparent about what it does with your data. Mainstream users need to understand that if you’re not paying for an online service, you and your data are the product. 

I truly do hope that Path has learned its lesson and that we all take a lesson from this: we have to realize the price of services we’re using and vocalize how we want our private data to be treated, or else we have no one to blame but ourselves.


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