iOS Apps Facing Backlash for Swiping Data
Some investigative reporting over at VentureBeat has discovered that popular apps such as Foursquare, Foodspotting, Yelp, and Gowalla are taking the names, phone numbers and email addresses off users’ Contact Lists and uploading them to the companies’ own servers. Making matters worse, most of these apps snag the data without the user’s permission or knowledge, making average consumers the unwitting middlemen in some shady marketing practices.
The issue was first broached last week when it was discovered that Path was surreptitiously uploading contact data to its servers, but we have since learned that this is a much more widespread issue. This isn’t the first time the issue of privacy has come up in regards to contact lists, and we suppose it won’t be the last either.
To be fair, there are instances where allowing an app to access one’s address book is both transparent and fair. There are many instances where an app will ask you if you want to look for friends who are also using the service, and upon approval the app will scan your contact list, match the details with folks already in its userbase, then immediately delete the data.
Unfortunately, that’s not what is happening in many cases, and it’s the indefinite storage of personal info that has many folks up in arms. For instance, the LA Times has discovered that Twitter saves contact data for 18 months after an initial scan anytime someone uses the Find Friends feature. Twitter has promised to “update the language” regarding how it handles personal data, but that sounds more like a mea culpa for getting caught rather than any substantive policy changes. They’re still going to retain your contact list for a year and a half, but now they’re going to tell you that they’re doing it.
The smartphone development community is still trying to figure out the exact role privacy plays in development and implementation of social and location-based apps, but I fear that in our current state we are most definitely heading down the wrong path.