Mobile apps need clear copy, not a privacy summit

It's great that mobile app makers are waking up to the trouble of "sharing" everything in opt-out fashion. But a few words would make all the difference.

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Mobile app Path on iPhone, sharing a location with friends

If you haven’t heard about Path, it’s probably because none of your friends uploaded your name, email address, and phone number to their servers yet.

Path is a mobile app for iPhone and Android that acts as a valet service for all your social network transactions. From one stylish, flowing app, you can share a photo, a thought, or a link through Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, or Instagram, or you can share it to only your close friends you’ve connected with through Path itself. Like most social-minded apps, Path can scan your address book and find connected friends.

Unlike most apps, or at least the way most apps claim to work, Path, until recently, automatically uploaded your address book and all the people in it to Path’s servers, without really stating that it was explicitly doing so. That behavior was noticed by a developer trying to craft a related Mac app for Path, and Path rather quickly apologized in a blog post, wiped all the data it had collected, and sent out an iOS update that now asks users to opt in or out of having their address book sent over for analysis and friend-finding.

That would be a case study in decent mobile app response, but it turns out Path isn’t an isolated case. Hipster, which creates digital postcards from your photos and shares where you are, also sends your address book along, or it did, until Hipster’s CEO apologized and forced an app update, which we can now call “Pulling a Path.”

The interesting thing is that Hipster also called for an “Application Privacy Summit” to “discuss … user privacy in mobile applications.” Not a bad idea, but here’s the thing: couldn’t you have made it clear what the app was doing in the first place?

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