February 16, 2012

“Everybody’s Doing It” is not an excuse

This past week there’s been quite a media frenzy over the use of address books by iOS apps (Path, Twitter, and many others). The news hinges on one thing: are customers aware of how apps are using their personal info and can they control that usage.

While the Path example led the news cycle, there’s a long list of apps that leverage the phone’s contact list as a means of assisting the user in sending “friend requests” without explicitly asking the user’s permission to do so. When pushed by the press, the excuse from app developers is along the lines of “well, everybody’s doing it, so we did too, and now that you caught us we’ll do better.

I believe that ultimately Apple is the one that should control how app’s access this personal info as they already do for geo-location with an opt-in. I read Apple’s announcement yesterday as acknowledging that they now agree and will over time implement a similar approach for controlling access to the address book. Given the practices we’ve seen app’s employ, I believe Apple’s revised stance is good news for the industry which unfortunately has not done a good job self-policing.

As for Plaxo, we’ve always made it clear in our iOS apps how we’re using personal info. For example, before we sync your local phone’s address book with your Plaxo account in the cloud we ask for the user’s permission. I think this is a great example of how despite the operating system not requiring explicit opt-in we went ahead and asked for it anyway.

I was pleased to see the Business Journal pick up on Plaxo’s example as a company that didn’t just go with the flow and that is clearly on the side of user control over their own personal information.  Finally, we’ve posted our data usage practices to be transparent to our users.

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About the Author

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Preston Smalley

GM and Head of Product

As GM I head the product and marketing teams. I also am an Entrepreneur at Comcast Silicon Valley where Plaxo operates. Former user experience design and product strategy leader from eBay with MBA from UC Berkeley.

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