What are your apps doing with your data?

PATH, an app for iOS and Android, says it is “The smart journal that helps you share life with the ones you love.”

Published: Fri 17 Feb 2012, 9:52 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 1:53 AM

It is a very nice app, which combines some exciting elements from other social networks. But Path has not had a great start to 2012 and what’s been transpiring raise serious issues for anyone and everyone that has a smartphone or tablet and download and install apps.

A programmer named Arun Thampi posted on his blog that he found that the Path app for iOS was uploading the entire address book from the iPhone to Path’s servers and did so without asking permission or giving the user any kind of notice. Now, it’s not unusual that apps download app to servers to store it there, process it, or perhaps just back it up. But the app should ask the user if they think that’s okay before doing anything with it, especially before uploading it to somewhere online.

This spread like wildfire around the Internet and lots of people were asking Path why this was happening. Path’s CEO, Dan Morin, quickly commented on this, saying: “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.” Morin added that Path was rolling out an update of the iOS app, which would add an opt-in for this functionality.

That was not enough, however, and it didn’t take long for Morin to announce that Path had deleted all the information that had been uploaded to its servers and would not upload anything else without the user giving their permission. A new version of the Path app is being worked on that will, Morin said, remedy this.

Although this situation with Path highlights some of the problems in the relatively new area of mobile apps better than almost any other case I can remember, it’s not the first and won’t be the last. What it was in the case of Path that made experienced an experienced group of developers and entrepreneurs either ignore that this would be an issue or just miss it altogether, I don’t know. I do know I’m surprised it happened at all.

What I also know is that the lesson must be that ultimately it is you that has the responsibility for what goes on your smartphone. You select what you install and how you use an app. Those who develop apps have the responsibility to be as informative and transparent as possible with us and what they do with our information.

To some extent that means we will have to trust them, and in the case of Path, thousands of users clearly got the short end of the stick. And most users are not app-experts, nor should they have to be.

Magnus Nystedt, @mnystedt

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