I have two smartphone-like devices -- A Samsung Galaxy/S on T-Mobile, and an Apple iPhone 4 that does not currently have a service plan. I also have a Google Voice account that I use for calls from my desktop. My NY apartment has awful cellphone coverage, so most of the calls I make are via Google Voice.
Until I used Path for the first and only time in late 2010, it never occured to me to ask whether the contents of my address book on the iPhone are private. As I said in the blog post I wrote at the time, this can't be a legit part of someone's business model, because I pay for the right to keep my address book on the iPhone.
But I learned before, that even though Apple jealously guards its own secrets, it doesn't help its customers protect their information from being shared with the world. I learned this when a hard drive stopped working. I bought a replacement from Apple, and they refused to give me the old drive. I had to raise the issue all the way up to Steve Jobs to get the hard drive back. I was really disappointed to see this. I thought of Apple as a highly competent company, and this lack of concern for their customers says something completely different about their competence. For the month it was out of my hands, I have no idea where it was, if it was backed up, and where the data on the drive might have ended up.
I am disappointed that programmers at Path and at Apple and perhaps dozens of other tech companies lack the ethics to stop their employers from using any data they can easily put their hands on. This is like a doctor who sees your wallet on your hospital room nightstand, and copies your credit card numbers, driver's license number, social security card, pictures of family members. It's there. No one is protecting it. Right? But it's even worse. It's as if the hospital had a policy to copy the info in all wallets left on patient's nightstands.
Pretty simple. It seems to me that the two actions are incompatible. If you install even one app on your iPhone or iPad, all your data is compromised. Since the tech industry is the predator here, we have to think for ourselves.
This is the issue that Consumer Reports and the FTC should be looking into. How about Congressional hearings? Bend over backwards to protect users the same way you would protect the entertainment industry.
I would have added that the NY Times should be weighing in too, but they already have. And Nick Bilton, writing in the Times, was right that information in address books, in some contexts, is a matter of life and death. In some countries in some contexts people do get killed for talking to reporters.