Social App Path In Hot Water Yet Again
May 1, 2013

Path Social App Once Again In Hot Water Over Privacy Practices

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

One social network is being called out for privacy concerns, and this time it isn´t Facebook. Path, the social app for smaller networks, has been busted before snooping into users´ smartphone address book and keeping these contacts without their permission. These allegations resulted in independent privacy assessments and an $800,000 fine by the Federal Trade Commission.

Yesterday, one blogger called the “antisocial” network out for texting every contact in his phonebook at 6 o´clock in the morning asking them to join Path as well.

“When I rolled out of bed this morning the first I knew about what had happened was when my dad told me he´d received two text messages (one on his mobile, one on his work phone — neither of which are smartphones) about some pictures I wanted to share with him,” writes Stephen Kenwright, who says he only signed up for the service and had the app installed on his Android device for half an hour the day before.

Kenwright received phone calls and texts throughout the day from friends and family members asking why they had received a spammy text asking them to see pictures he had allegedly posted to Path. Kenwright even received a phone call to his landline at home from Path, asking him to sign up with the social network to see his own photos.

"Having uninstalled the app yesterday when I decided it wasn´t for me, I´m going to go ahead and assume that Path took this data out of my phonebook sometime during the half hour I had it installed," said Kenwright.

In response to these accusations, Path has clearly gone on the offensive, insisting these texts and calls are a feature, not a bug.

The social-networking app has since responded to the criticisms not with an apology, but with a defensive claim that this is simply the way the app works. Path says they have since spoken with Kenwright and discovered that the only way the app malfunctioned is by sending the messages outside of the small window of time in which he had the app installed on his Android device.

"Path is really best with friends and we really want to help users invite the people that they care about to their Path as quickly as possible," said Path´s vice president of marketing Nate Johnson in a statement to The Verge.

Talking to CNET, Johnson even went so far as to say that Path users explicitly give the app permission to send invitations to their contact list. According to Kenwright, he doesn´t remember opting in to have every individual on his contact list receive promotional messages from the social app.

Kenwright does mention, however, that the “robocalls” made by Path may have been unique to the UK. According to his post, UK landlines are capable of transferring a text message into speech. Therefore, any text Path tried to send to a landline resulted in a phone call.

In an update to his blog post, Kenwright says Path assured him they don´t collect or store data from phone books and that they should have sent all those messages while he was an actual member, not after.

Though Path hasn´t technically done anything wrong or illegal, their history with privacy issues has raised some concerns. The company recently announced signing up 10 million registered users, but many believe that these impressive numbers may be due to these aggressive sign-up practices rather than organic sharing. Though Path claims that users must give explicit permission to have their address book contacted by the network, CNET senior editor Bridget Carey said it´s easy to miss this step in the signup process.

"I spammed my entire contact list when I clicked too fast during the Path signup process," said Carey, retelling her own experience with the social network.

"It was my fault for going too fast, but ... it's mortifying."