Posted February 15, 2012 6:48 am by with 5 comments

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If you have been able to stomach the recent back and forth between investors in Path (CrunchFunders Michael Arrington and MG Siegler) and the rest of the online space about CrunchFund investment Path’s use of contact data then you can say you have made it. Congrats. It has been painful to watch these cloistered Silicon Valley high priests act the fool but maybe it’s a necessary evil in today’s world. That’s one explanation at least.

To be fair, it is important to note that Path’s CEO Dave Morin, otherwise known as the “What NOT To Do With Your Users Data” poster child narced out the rest of the industry in his apology to the world. I say fair because it is Path’s mission to make sure they don’t bear the full brunt of this backlash.

Well, it looks like they have succeeded. The LA Tines reports about Twitter’s same process when it downloads contact information, which we now find out is a privacy no-no.

Twitter Inc. has acknowledged that after mobile users tap the “Find friends” feature on its smartphone app, the company downloads users’ entire address book, including names, email addresses and phone numbers, and keeps the data on its servers for 18 months. The company also said it plans to update its apps to clarify that user contacts are being transmitted and stored.

The company’s current privacy policy does not explicitly disclose that Twitter downloads and stores user address books.

Well, how about that! What Morin had called somewhat facetiously, an “industry best practice” may very well be an industry standard.

Twitter’s response?

In response to questions about the process, Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner said the company is planning an update to the language they use in the mobile app.

“We want to be clear and transparent in our communications with users,” Penner wrote in an email. “Along those lines, in our next app updates, which are coming soon, we are updating the language associated with Find Friends — to be more explicit. In place of ‘Scan your contacts,’ we will use “Upload your contacts” and “Import your contacts” (in Twitter for iPhone and Twitter for Android, respectively).

OOOOPS! Our bad!

Let’s be honest here. When you are allowing mobile apps on your phone you are allowing serious access to your data on that device and it is never truly that clear as to just how much data is being taken and stored by that app. Privacy is just a pretty word in the online space. it has lost its meaning and it is not likely to get it back unless people truly rebel and hit these apps where it hurts. I just don’t see that happening, do you?

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  • I think a pretty good question is what could Apple (Google, you name it) do, to prevent sneaky adressbook transfers within their OS. As long as it is possible to gain the data, there will be “accidents”

  • Don’t you think “facetiously” is a little harsh?

    • @ Michael – He blew the whistle on the rest of the industry to take the focus off of his screw up. Calling what he and Path were doing a “best practice” was facetious. I think I may have nice in calling it only that.

      This practice put people up in arms so how can it perceived as “best”? Rather it was A practice that insiders wink wink and nod nodded to each other about. Taking advantage of people not reading long drawn out privacy policies etc. is a Silicon Valley hobby but it doesn’t make it right.

      Also, consider he is answering to the likes of Arrington and Siegler. Do you think being a nice guy is important to him?

  • Cynthia Boris

    This speaks to something I talked about the other day with location-based marketing. People want one-touch convenience. They want targeted coupons and deals. They’ve got to give something up to get it. Granted, not the phone numbers of everyone in their contact list, but honestly, what’s Twitter going to do with those numbers? Start calling people? More like they haven’t figured out how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    • @Cynthia – If they can’t use it why are they storing it for up to 18 months? If it is not usable they should simply dump it. It’s not theirs anyway. At least in my mind it’s not.