Getting Back on the Right Path

February 13th, 2012 | Guest Contributor | 24 Comments

PathGuest post by Michael Schechter

We spend so much time talking about when the companies we know and love make a mistake. We grab pitchforks, jump to our blogs and decree our anger to the world, usually within 24 hours, if not 24 minutes, of the offense.

Last Wednesday, it was social networking app Path’s day in the hot seat.

The crime: in order to make it easier to find our friends, they were taking the address books on our cell phones and uploading it onto their servers.

Now, I’m not trying to defend their actions. This shouldn’t happen, or at least it shouldn’t happen without our knowledge. Apparently there are better ways to handle this, as Matt Gemmell explained in the post that initially revealed the privacy breach.

There is also a ton of validity to Ben Brook’s point that:

One interesting thing that I saw floating around the web, about all this address book uploading that is happening on iOS, is this idea that an App must ask for permission to use your location, but doesn’t need to do so before it grabs everything in your address book and uploads it to their servers.

Apple needs to change this. Now.

Once again, the Internet did what the Internet does best. It got indignant and it went on the attack. And even though CEO Dave Morin immediately jumped into the conversation, his explanation only seemed to fuel the angry hordes.

I commend him for his response time, but to be honest, one look at his initial response and the subsequent apology and you can see that they were not prepared for the backlash.

Thankfully, Morin did the dangerous, yet smart thing. Both he and Path went radio silent for about 24 hours.

And as we stewed, they did everything a user could have hoped for. They took full responsibility, completely deleted all of the user information on their servers, changed the option to upload this data to opt-in and already submitted an updated version of their application to Apple.

Should they have gone about this a different way in the first place? Absolutely, but they can’t fix the past and as MG Siegler, an investor in Path and well respected tech pundit, shares:

Path wasn’t trying to gain your address book to cold call all of your friends and bug them to join Path. Nor were they going to sell this data to marketers. They weren’t even auto-friending people (which way too many apps do). It was simply to ease the connection building process by giving users good recommendations.

Here’s the other key thing: a number of your favorite social apps do the exact same thing. And some have for a very long time — for years, actually.

Giving Path and Morin the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume they weren’t trying to do anything wrong with our data.

Let’s consider that they were simply trying to use the infrastructure that Apple provided them with in order to offer the best possible experience.

Once the exact process was brought to light and they were able to see the customer reaction, they did everything in their power to make it right and they did it in a day.

I don’t think we can ask for more.

The moral of the story?

Internet, calm down and give companies a chance to respond intelligently.

Brands, startups and services, learn from Path’s response. When you screw up, apologize and fix the problem. Quickly.

Michael SchechterMichael Schechter is the Digital Marketing Director for Honora Pearls, a company specializing in freshwater pearl jewelry. He also writes about how technology impacts our productivity, our creativity and our lives. You can connect with him over on his blog, A Better Mess, or on Twitter where he’s @MSchechter.

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23 comments
ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

I was probably under a rock, and I don't have Path either, so... But I appreciate your play-by-play, and your point about the pitchfork mentality. I think Path basically found it okay to do what they did because so many other apps have done it without being called out. When they were, there was really only one right thing to do, no matter what they did before they did that one right thing. And they did it.

Hajra
Hajra

We all mess up. We all make mistakes. It is human to err, divine to forgive. But yes, you will be forgiven only if you say sorry. I think we all have a little sadist in us that is waiting for just jump and attack others... if we are ready to dissect how others mess up, then we have a lot of thinking about ourselves to do!

KDillabough
KDillabough

Ditto that: "when you screw up, apologize, and fix the problem quickly". Wise words. Cheers! Kaarina

bdorman264
bdorman264

Damn Shrek, you are one smart dude; I knew there was a reason I liked to hang around you. I guess I missed all the hubbub of the Path incident, but I'm sure it was occurring where all the smart people play.

I concur, just because it's social and the internet and we can respond at the speed of light; take a deep breath. Yes, there should be accountability but also know nobody is perfect either.

Thanks for making me a smarter person today.

KenMueller
KenMueller

I haven't followed this story closely, but I think across the board, when we look at privacy issues on Facebook, Twitter, G+, or any other social platform, they really aren't out to do anything nefarious with our data. I think in the long run, as they plan these apps and platforms, they are thinking, "How can we create the best possible, most user friendly experience for our customers?".

And in the world of the Internet, search, social, etc, we get that better experience when the platforms and apps know something about us. This is why Google is making search more social, and in order to do that, they need to know something about us.

We want the best of both worlds, but want it on our terms. THAT is what developers need to learn up front. They've been doing this for years, and most of us never really knew or cared. Now we do.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@ShakirahDawud Path is fun!

From all I've read about this brouhaha, it sounds like Path was intent on the best user experience, and not on how they could slip one over us. They definitely did the right thing when they saw the reaction, though. That speaks volumes.

MSchechter
MSchechter

@ShakirahDawud Like many social media "kerfuffles" it's something that some care about more deeply than anything, yet most are blissfully unaware of...

MSchechter
MSchechter

@Hajra I think its more than saying you're sorry. In situations like this the fix is as essential. Had Path not "nuked" the data on their serves, this would have been a very different post. As for that last bit, imagine a world where we are as hard on ourselves as we are the companies we criticize... not sure I'd want to live in that world, but it'd probably be a better place :)

MSchechter
MSchechter

@bdorman264 More geeky than smart. I have one foot squarely placed in tech and one in social. This took place in the tech space. I'm glad the problem was brought to light, I just wish we could use the internet to affect action without all the outrage. God forbid we say, "Here's a problem, let's fix it"... Thanks for the kind words.

MSchechter
MSchechter

@KenMueller They aren't out to do anything nefarious, but we should certainly know what they are doing. I was shocked to find this info was offloaded from my phone, but it's not like I think Path is looking to solicit my family. Apple needs to find a way to empower this functionality without exposing the potential risks. My biggest fear isn't what Path will do with it, it's having my information in so many more places that it can be compromised. Now that we know, hopefully the right solution rises to the surface. And don't get me started on Google Social Search... I become one cranky nerd.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@MSchechter@bdorman264 Michael you blew it. I saw 'One foot in tech and....' if you just said 'in the grave' you had the start of a great modern country western song.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@MSchechter@KenMueller I like transparency. I feel there is a lot of stuff that is done that if people were asked they would agree to. The uproars seem to be the behind the back stuff.

I had to reset my Droid2 and a few of the apps asked if I wanted to participate in the customer data feedback program where they would anonymously collect user data so I could opt in.

There is also Ghost Networks on the web. I use Firefox and No Scripts so any site I have never been to I have to allow Java Script to help prevent viruses. I see all the above ground networks and often one site will have a lot. This has almost 20 plugged in from Youtube to get clicky. Well there is an add on called Ghostery which exposes the tracking networks. And damn there are a lot.

I think the only way to be private is to not go online LOL

MSchechter
MSchechter

@HowieG@TheJackB I like the analogy. I have no idea what it means (as I'm not that bright), but I enjoyed it all the same. We do have a short memory, but I don't think thats always the worst thing. We overreact all too often, so forgetting is probably a good thing.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@TheJackB@MSchechter the odd thing about the internet is that it sings as a chorus but to each individual it really is like a seat in a movie theater. The movie is playing but we are really alone or on a date. We might hear 500 people laugh but we don't know who they or nor did we see them laugh.

But the company or person receiving that chorus I bet it can be intimidating I am sure. No reason not to hide. And seriously we have short attention spans it takes a BP spill to go on more than a day or two. I surely was clueless this happened. Apple was caught tracking IPhone user movements and people still camped out for the next one.

MSchechter
MSchechter

@bdorman264@HowieG If you read a blog post back, you get your car back, your house back, your dog back and your wife back.

MSchechter
MSchechter

@HowieG@KenMueller True, but you also have to remember how fed up we get every time windows would ask us for the same permission over and over and over again. I think Apple's tries to balance permissions with experience, in this case I think they missed the mark. $5 says we see this hole plugged system wide in the next update.

I think you summed it up best in the end there... anything we put on any device isn't likely to stay private. Two people can only keep a secret if one is dead and neither of them had a cell phone...

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