We need higher privacy standards

Industry insiders defend Google's Safari hack and Path's phonebook theft as standard industry practices. We can -- and must -- do better than that.

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There have been a couple of huge stories on the privacy front recently that point out a much bigger problem: How the biggest players in the tech industry treat our collective data as their own private plaything. To wit:

Privacy snafu #1. The Path to self destruction

Mobile social network Path was put through the meat grinder over the last two weeks after an app developer discovered Path was grabbing address books off its users’ phones and storing the data on its servers. 

The violent reaction to Path’s purloining of user phonebooks surprised non-journalist Michael Arrington, who called it an “industry standard” practice:

…this ongoing Path story has definitely surprised me. Partly because I’ve never seen a single company take such a staggering hit for doing something that, while wrong, is quite clearly industry practice. If you’ve used a mobile social app that suggested friends to you, it almost certainly uploaded your address book, and almost certainly did it without your permission.

Sure enough, it seems Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Yelp, Instragram and other massively popular mobile apps do or did much the same thing – and, until the controversy over Path blew up, mostly on the QT. Path immediately rolled over and said it would stop doing that. Most of the other apps hastily cobbled together some consent screens that more clearly described what they were doing.

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