Posted February 8, 2012 4:31 pm by with 0 comments

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Today, the fledgling social network Path was forced to issue an apology based on how it used contact data from its users. That’s an oversimplification of course but you can find plenty of places where the incidentals have been explained. Even Path investors like Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund had to call out the company.

The story of the day is definitely about Path (a CrunchFund portfolio company). The company has been copying address book information to their servers without user knowledge.

The company was apparently already aware of the issue and was taking steps to address it prior to this post coming out. The Android app has an opt-in, and a version of the app with an opt-in is awaiting approval at Apple, says CEO Dave Morin in the comments to the original post. Morin has also flat out apologized.

What is most interesting though is that the CEO of Path, Dave Morin, issued his apology via the Path blog. The title is “We are sorry.” and it goes something like this

We made a mistake. Over the last couple of days users brought to light an issue concerning how we handle your personal information on Path, specifically the transmission and storage of your phone contacts.

As our mission is to build the world’s first personal network, a trusted place for you to journal and share life with close friends and family, we take the storage and transmission of your personal information very, very seriously.

Where else have we seen a young social network play fast and loose with the data that is their users then turn around and have to apologize? Hmmmmmmm, let me see. Wait, isn’t their one CEO that has said he is sorry so many times that anyone who is a thinking human being doesn’t believe him anymore? Oh yeah, that’s right! Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. He’s practicaly turned apologizing to his users into a cottage industry.

Back in November of 2011 as Zuckerberg took to the Interwebz to discuss the smackdown that Facebook received from the feds about their privacy faux pas. Liz Gannes of All Things Digital did what was in essence a “Zuckerberg’s Greatest Apologies” retrospective in a post in which she led with

At this point, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pattern on privacy is clear. Launch new stuff that pushes the boundaries of what people consider comfortable. Apologize and assure users that they control their information, but rarely pull back entirely, and usually reintroduce similar features at a later date when people seem more ready for it.

And followed up with

Most of all, Zuckerberg seems to take pride in offering an explicit, earnest apology, but doesn’t actually admit he was wrong, just that he’s sorry for how things were rolled out or perceived.

What followed was the determination that of the 25 posts that Zuckerberg made on the Facebook blog to that point, 10 were apologies. It’s pretty comical quite honestly.

Now we have Path’s CEO Morin. Our hope is that this is not the first of many public mea culpas that serve to soothe the nerves of those who, for the time being, are focusing on Path’s mistake. One would like to think that Path will now walk down the straight and narrow path itself with regard to how it treats its users. All things considered though, Zuckerberg has already shown the way in that you can screw up numerous times and get away with a lot of shenanigans if you just play nice and apologize in an “aw, shucks” kind of way. Considering this established pattern and the likes of Arrington pushing some buttons at Path I bet this won’t be the last time they push the boundaries of Internet courtesy and good taste.

At least it appears that Morin is willing to up the ante regarding how to apologize. He actually says that Path was wrong.

Through the feedback we’ve received from all of you, we now understand that the way we had designed our ‘Add Friends’ feature was wrong. We are deeply sorry if you were uncomfortable with how our application used your phone contacts.

Nice job, Dave but there is a problem. Now that you have established that your company is willing to walk in the footsteps of Facebook you have given all of us every reason to be suspicious of how you move forward with Path’s development as it relates to privacy and data protection. We have been burned enough by Zuck and Co. that the “Get Out of Privacy Screw-up Jail Free” cards are all used up. You are now on the clock and everyone is watching what will happen in the future.

Just be aware that if you try to test these waters again your hopes of becoming something that might challenge Facebook or at least take some of its share could be dashed to bits on the rocky waters of Internet privacy.

Was that over the top? I’m sorry.