Path, Address Books, and Facecrook

Everyone seems to be up in arms today about how Path copied users’ entire address books.  In a way, it’s extremely similar to how people were up in arms when they realized that Facebook tracks your web browsing even when you’re logged out.  Except this time, Facebook is in Google’s seat.

What exactly do I mean by that?

See, when the whole Facebook browsing tracking thing came up, it was like some new and novel thing to get pissed off about.  I was mad.  I attempted to disable my Facebook account in an effort to protest (it didn’t work, I’m still addicted).

But, when I brought the user tracking issue up to a colleague, his response was to the effect of “Yeah, so?  Google’s been doing that forever…” (and so has Amazon).

After looking into it a bit, I’m inclined to believe he’s right.  So there we had Facebook with their pants down, getting a rash of shit for doing the same thing Google had been doing for ages.

And here we have the same thing: Path with their pants down, getting a rash of shit for doing the same thing Facebook’s been doing for… well, not ages, but at least for a while.

How do I know Facebook is doing this?  I’m sure I could jailbreak and examine API calls and XHR logs, but I saw a far more telling sign a few days ago that’s worth the anecdote.

A little over a year ago, I met a girl named Hope (hi Hope!), and on the night we met, in the course of conversation, we made a few jokes about how it would be funny if her full name was Hope Joy Faith.  When I took down her phone number, I put her in my iPhone as Hope Faith and didn’t really think anything of it.

Then, about a week ago, Facebook recommended me a new friend named Hope Faith.  This struck me as particularly bizarre, since I’m already Facebook friends with Hope under her real last name, and I’m fairly certain I’ve never searched that name.  So, I would be genuinely surprised if that friend recommendation didn’t stem from my phone’s address book.

Is Path okay because Facebook did it first?  Was Facebook okay because Google and Amazon did it first?  Does anyone even remember the browsing debacle?

The internet is a fickle place, and while it’s certainly warranted that this issue be brought to light with the frustration and angst it’s due, it’s misguided to say that this is a problem with Path or with the Apple App Store.  It’s a problem with the internet as a whole, and unless specific and direct action is taken by the users of the product, it’s only going to get worse.