What about other social networking sites?
The first time this problem was seen, was not with Twitter but with Path, a social media service which provides a “simple way to keep a journal, or ‘Path’, of your life on the go.” Developer Arun Thampi was looking into the way the Path protocol worked when he noticed that his entire iPhone address book (including full names, emails and phone numbers) was being sent to Path. He blogged about his discovery, this in turn caused the CEO of Path David Morin to issue an apology: “We made a mistake. Over the last couple of days users brought to light an issue concerning how we handle your personal information on Path, specifically the transmission and storage of your phone contacts.” Path then issued a statement that it had deleted the entire collection of user uploaded contact information from its servers.
This then caused privacy experts to start looking at other socail networking sites including Facebook, FourSquare, Instagram, Foodspotting and Yelp. It turns out that they all send data from your smartphone’s internal address book to their servers. Several do so without first asking permission. Instagram and Foursquare now ask for permission, but only after the issues found at Path.
Apple and Congress
Apple run a very tight ship when it comes to their App Store with apps taking days (even weeks) to be approved before being published. According to Apple’s guidelines: “Apps that read or write data outside its designated container area will be rejected” and “Apps cannot transmit data about a user without obtaining the user’s prior permission.” Unless you are Twitter, Facebook or Path that is! This slip-up by Apple has led two US congressmen to write to Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, asking why the company allows the practice on the iPhone. In the letter they ask if “this incident raises 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.”
Back to Twitter
Path issued new versions of their app (for iPhone and Android), as have Instagram and Foursquare. It seems that Twitter will do the same:
“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 to the BBC.