The tech world has been consumed today with news the app Path quietly uploaded users' iPhone address books without permission. Path, in an increasingly common Silicon Valley ritual, apologized and promised it wouldn't happen again. But the company has given false assurances before. To us.
"We are sorry," Path's young and moneyed founder Dave Morin told his 2 million+ users in a carefully hedged blog post. "We commit to you that we will continue to be transparent... As a clear signal of our commitment to your privacy, we've deleted the entire collection of user uploaded contact information from our servers,"
Right, except Morin already said that content wasn't supposed to be on its servers in the first place.
See, in November 2010, when software developer and blogging pioneer Dave Winer raised red flags about Path's apparent uploading, we reached out to Morin. We were syndicating Winer's post here on Gawker and were curious what Morin had to say about it.
He said, in a nutshell, not to worry, since Path wasn't storing anything. Here's his email:
[Gawker: Is it correct that Path uses iPhone address book data? Thanks for any guidance!]
Thanks for the good question.
Path is created to share personal moments with your close friends and family. From the end user's point of view, access to your iPhone contacts makes sharing with your closest friends and family convenient.
Like many apps (i.e. Skype and Kik ) — Path allows you to access your friends' and family's contact information from your own iPhone contacts in order to find them on the network.
One of our core principles here is that you must have contact information for someone in order to find them on Path. Usually, you have contact information for your close friends.
Path does not retain or store any of your information in any way.
After assuring us Path did not retain - in any way - user data, it turns out said data has been, as Morin put it today, "stored securely on our servers using industry standard firewall technology." If we'd imagined Morin would so brazenly break with this assurance, maybe we would have printed it at the time. If he replies to our request for clarification, we'll be sure to rush up his justification more quickly this time around.
Morin has been receiving backslaps on Twitter today from other industry insiders. Never mind that he only really apologized "if you were uncomfortable" and said Path would "continue to be transparent," when Path's prior lack of transparency is precisely the issue here.
No, what seems to count in Silicon Valley is that Morin has mastered the one-two step of breaking the rules to get ahead, claiming to be sorry when caught, and then charging ahead, often right back into another ethically shady area of behavior. It's a move right out of Mark Zuckerberg's playbook, or Airbnb's, or Zynga's.
Two-faced behavior like this is turning the tech business into an ethical cesspool. Or as Winer put it more than a year ago, "the tech industry is a virus." If you're comfortable in your affliction, by all means believe Morin and leave Path installed on your phone. If you've finally had enough, trash the thing. If protecting your privacy isn't worth deleting the latest mobile check-in whatever, then it's not worth much.
Update: The official version from Morin is that the statement was technically accurate, at the time he made it. He just changed his mind. His statement, emailed by an independent PR agent:
Our email exchange from November 15, 2010 was absolutely accurate. That was the day Path launched and we were not storing any address book information at that time, as I clearly stated in my email. We introduced FriendRank in March 2011 and that is when we began retaining contact information with the intent to maximize the Path experience, specifically by:
1) showing users a list of friends on Path
2) suggesting friends users might want to connect to
3) telling users when any of their contacts joined Path
Dave Morin, Co-Founder and CEO of Path
Morin's list is basically a non-justification for reversing a no-storage policy Morin had previously made a point of touting. Of the three justifications, note that numbers 1 and 2 do not require storing anything, and number 3 — "telling users when any of their contacts joined Path" — only helps Path spam, err, notify people in cases where either their friend joins Path and either elects not to share their address book or does not have their "friend's" contact information in the address book.
[Image of Morin via Joi Ito/Flickr]