Path updates security in wake of privacy backlash

Apr 3, 2012
Tech

Mobile social network Path rolled out a fresh update Monday that brings new privacy controls to the app, allowing users to have tougher control over their information. The update comes in the wake of Path’s privacy fallout back in February, in which the app was the first of many to fall on the bad side […]

Mobile social network Path rolled out a fresh update Monday that brings new privacy controls to the app, allowing users to have tougher control over their information.

The update comes in the wake of Path’s privacy fallout back in February, in which the app was the first of many to fall on the bad side of the public over data being stored on the company’s servers. That issue has been dealt with, and as The New York Times reports, Path has announced new security features for its app as well.

Path detailed the changes to Version 2.1.1, now available in the iTunes App Store, in a blog post Monday. Specifically, the big change is that all user data stored by Path on its servers will be “hashed,” which means that instead of saving anything as plane text, it’ll be encoded and therefore not easily readable by humans should anyone happen to get access to it.

The data Path is referring to is all the stuff it says it’s gathering from you when you sign up to use its service, including names, Facebook IDs, Twitter handles and email address. Path uses all that data to link itself with other social networks and make it easier for users to interact across all of them, and those aren’t really the things that got it into trouble before.

Last time around, the trouble was two-fold: first, that Path was aggregating user address book data without express permission, and second, that it was holding onto that data indefinitely, much of it unencrypted, on its servers. Path wasn’t the only social network (by far) to be doing this – many social networks make use of address book data when you use any kind of “find my other friends” feature – but Path was the first to get “caught” doing so, and bore the brunt of the backlash.

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Path summarily deleted all that address book data it had saved, as did lots of other networks following the backlash. The whole incident prompted some other changes, as well. Most social networks updated their apps to let you know that you’re allowing address book access when you use “find my friends” features, and Apple has been pressured to make app developers be more explicit about what their apps can do and access when you download them, much like what Google and Amazon do with Android apps.

Security updates and user data protections are a good thing, even if they do seem to come at the threat of scrutiny from members of the U.S. Congress. Users ought to feel a little better about using Path going forward, though updates such as this one might be too little, too late when it comes to user trust.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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