It’s been too long since we’ve had a “gate.” Remember Antennagate? Those were good times. We even got Steve Jobs to acknowledge that one. But Pathgate, part 2, the sequel? Sorry, but no one cares. But wait! What’s that, you say? Path has 10 million users now, so these new allegations of address book spamming are a REALLY. BIG. DEAL. 10 million people care! No. No, they don’t. Path doesn’t have 10 million active users, it has 10 million registered users. That’s a big difference.
We don’t know how many active users Path has, because this is a metric mobile app markers don’t like to share. But according to AppData, Path is estimated to have around a million monthly actives. This figure is determined by those who have connected with Facebook via the application, so it’s a rough way to gain insight into usage since a) not all of an app’s users connect via Facebook, and b) its data has become slightly more obscured these days following some erroneous misinterpretations about Facebook-owned Instagram’s user count.
Path also doesn’t require users connect with Facebook, so it’s not an entirely accurate picture here. We should point out that the app is still ranked very highly in the App Store, which means it would need well over 100,000 downloads per day. What’s not clear is whether those installs are being boosted by Path’s iffy “invite friends” techniques, which are prompting users to install after receiving their friend’s invite. While that could bump the app up in the charts, who knows how many of those users are more than curious, and will convert to regular and active users in the long-term. On the flip side, it could also be that AppData just isn’t reflecting this new traffic yet.
The point is that the number of people who use Path, and who would get legitimately upset about any sort of bad behavior on its part, is still relatively low in the grand scheme of things. It’s not like Facebook screwed up here – it’s Path, for god’s sakes. Path. A bespoke messaging app for you and 150 of your closest friends. (Just kidding about that “bespoke” part. You should read more Vanity Fair.)
In case you’re totally lost, here’s the background: some guy installed Path and invited friends to use the app with him. The app did just that, and the guy got mad.
No seriously, that’s the story.
Path’s only mistake in the matter – if you can even call it that – is that it defaults its “invite friends” section to an opt-out experience, as opposed to an opt-in one. If you move too quickly through the “invite friends” screen, then you might miss this step, which is exactly what happened to this poor gentleman*. His gaffe ended up ringing his family members’ landlines in some cases, as that’s the number he had on file. (And landlines in the UK, where this user resides, can receive text messages. Landlines!)
I get that it’s very embarrassing to have misinterpreted the “invite friends” screen’s text to assume that it means, “oh, we’ll quietly tap your friends on the shoulder next time we see them around town, and whisper to them that they’re an app we’d like them to try.” But that’s not generally how these things work. “Invite friends” means an app is going to text, email, or Facebook message people, and it’s a screen to take a pause on. Especially because apps like Path try to leverage the Facebook friend graph to go viral, and sometimes do non-user friendly things like forcing you to “unselect all,” lest they message all your friends on your behalf.
If anything, this story is a cautionary tale about the very casual, ham-fisted, and un-careful way app developers treat our most personal data – our closest relationships with other human beings – the very ones they want to suck out from Facebook because of Facebook’s increasingly public nature. These things are just another firehouse of data for them to toy with for the sake of app store rankings.
Proceed carefully then, social app using friends.
But, please. Pathgate part 2?
A scandal this is not.
* Update – Yes, the user’s blog post says “I’m pretty sure I didn’t opt in…” regarding sharing his contacts – a step which Path requires before it messages people on your behalf. Whether he did or did not realize that he opted in is a case of finger-pointing. Also, disclosure: CrunchFund was started by the same person who started TechCrunch. Occasionally it invests in companies that we cover. This doesn’t influence reporting.
Update 2 – Added some more thoughts on size of Path’s install base and downloads.