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The crooked Path

Thursday, 9 February, 2012

A year ago, the tech press was all abuzz with rumours that Path, a social photo sharing and messaging service for mobile devices led by former Facebook executive Dave Morin, had received a $100-million buyout offer from Google (with $20 million more in incentives). Drunk on the hype of his entrepreneurial virtuosity, Morin rejected the offer and aimed for something bigger. Now, his reputation is in tatters. And all because he believed that he could leverage the Facebook strategy of absolute arrogance to a new level. Thieves For Path, this meant copying iPhone address book information to their servers without user knowledge. Arun Thampi from mclov.in noticed the Path app’s thievery while trying to create a Mac OS X application for the social network. “Upon inspecting closer, I noticed that my entire address book (including full names, emails and phone numbers) was being sent as a plist to Path,” Thampi posted, noting that Path didn’t ask for permission to do so.

On most smartphones today, the address book contains details that go far beyond basic information. Along with phone numbers, there are e-mail addresses, birthdays, work and home numbers, photos and so on. What kind of mindset thinks it’s OK to grab all of this data and just upload it, without telling the user? Path has displayed complete disrespect for user privacy and Morin’s cynical “We are sorry” response is filled with so much weasel language that it takes one’s breath away: “We care deeply about your privacy and about creating a trusted place for you to share life with your close friends and family.” Really? Why did you enable the thievery, then, dude?

Our thanks go out to Arun Thampi for his vigilance. Similarly to Josh Davis who noticed that another new, hot social startup, Pinterest was rather shy about disclosing its activities. “If you post a pin to Pinterest, and it links to an ecommerce site that happens to have an affiliate program, Pinterest modifies the link to add their own affiliate tracking code. If someone clicks through the picture from Pinterest and makes a purchase, Pinterest gets paid. They don’t have any disclosure of this link modification on their site…” wrote Josh Davis on LLSocial.com on Tuesday.

The worry now is that an entire generation of social networking startups are populated by people — founders, funders, managers, programmers — who think that it’s perfectly in order to deceive or steal from their customers.

THIS JUST IN: Hipster is also uploading parts of user iPhone address book to its servers.


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