/// The social network Path is growing fast, but it risks alienating its users
Path is one of many social networks which hope to be a Facebook killer. But the company, launched in late 2010, has started to take off in a big way: it passed the 10 million user mark on Monday, and is gaining another million every week.
The network’s gimmick is a clever one. “Tired of managing ‘friendships’ with people you’ve never met?” it asks. “Then come to us. You can only have 150 friends, making this the network you’ll use to speak to people you actually like.” And it’s backed up with a user interface to die for.
But where it does everything right on paper, in practice Path’s path has been rockier. Repeatedly, it’s pushed beyond where even our jaded, post-Google-and-Facebook expectations of what corporate attitudes to privacy ought to look like. In February 2012, a programmer called Arun Thampi discovered that the iOS app was uploading his entire address book to Path’s servers without asking; the company apologised, deleted the data, and updated the app to request permission first. The incident still led to an $800,000 fine from the US Federal Trade Commission, since the network had ended collecting the data of children without their parents’ – or anyone’s – permission.
This week, another privacy scandal has opened up, with Path caught spamming contacts without permission. Stephen Kenwright described on his blog how the app had texted his parents, grandparents and an aunt to tell them he “had a photo to share with them”. Worse, it all happened the morning after he’d deleted the app.
Other users have complained about the same behaviour on Reddit, on Twitter and in comments on Kenwright’s blog.
Path promises that it is investigating what happened, but it’s already a PR disaster. The company is fast developing a reputation for playing fast and loose with users’ data, and this has done nothing to temper that image. The fallout might be softened if it could put up a friendly face in the press, but CEO Dave Morin is renowned – even in Silicon Valley – for being beyond parody (take the time he told Vanity Fair, “I don’t use a ring of any kind on my phone. This is so that I am always on offense and never defense”). It seems that Morin, who used to work for Apple and Facebook, has inherited some of the worst traits of his old bosses. When it comes to shipping high-quality products, Apple is a pedigree to be proud of. However, when you’re hurting in the press, having a CEO who seems slightly removed from the real world doesn’t help. But at least he’s not hunting bison.
Path has a neat focus and a gorgeous app. In fact, it’s already one step beyond most tech startups, in that the product it is selling has intuitive appeal. But it’s trying to appeal to a user base hurting from Twitter’s API lockdown, Google’s euthanisation of Reader, and Instagram’s terms and conditions changes. Customers the world over have been burned by companies that start nice and end up mean time and time again. Companies with nice apps and an interesting gimmick are ten a penny, but what no angel investor can provide is trustworthiness. That’s something that has to be earned, and Path seems to be doing everything in its power to go in the opposite direction.
The Guardian – Alex Hern