Revelations that Path had been uploading users’ address books without their permission seem to have opened up the metaphorical floodgates as more and more social apps are revealed to have been doing the same.
The latest to admit to harvesting user contacts is social networking giant Twitter. According to the BBC, Twitter’s iOS app gains access to people’s address books when they click on the “Find Friends” feature.
“We want to be clear and transparent in our communications with users. 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,” Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner said.
Other apps guilty of taking information from users address books include Facebook, Gowalla, Foursquare, and Yelp — all of which have substantial user numbers.
Since being implicated in the scandal, however, both Instagram and Foursquare have made updates to their apps which warn users that they need to use their address book updates to search for friends. Facebook has always made it clear that it does so, prompting app users with a message, saying: “Facebook will store imported contacts on your behalf and may use them to generate friend suggestions for you and others.”
In the wake of the revelations, two US congressmen have written to Apple asking why the firm allows the practise on the iPhone, given that it contravenes its own developer guidelines.
In their letter the politicians state that the various incidences raise “questions about whether Apple’s iOS app developer policies and practices may fall short when it comes to protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts.”
Speaking to AllThingsD meanwhile Apple said that all apps using address book data would, in the future, be required to ask users for explicit permission.
“Apps that collect or transmit a user’s contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told the renowned tech site. “We’re working to make this even better for our customers, and as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release.”
It would appear then, that Apple has done the right thing, but should it not have been doing so from the beginning?
Once again, a number of the apps found guilty of storing users’ address book data without permission were high-profile ones, with significant databases. It’s not like they were rogue offenders.
As VentureBeat’s Jennifer van Grove says, this is rightfully an issue which “refuses to be swept under the rug”. This is, after all, “your address book we’re talking about, arguably the most private of all entities. It’s the digital repository of the personal and professional relationships you’ve amassed in your lifetime, and a simple click of a button could expose those relationships to strangers with malicious intents”.
Van Grove also makes the salient point that “much of the data in your address book belongs to other people… and has been entrusted to you with the understanding that you will keep it private”.