Whenever user privacy comes into question, the reaction is predictable. The tech media will flare up with outrageous and accusatory headlines, the mainstream media will pick up on it and put a couple talking heads on air to decry the practice and users will start talking in bars about how “company xyz” is spying on them. If we are lucky, the controversy will get tech writers sniping at each other and there will be a Congressional investigation.
The fact that many iOS apps have had unfettered access to upload the contacts in your address book has caused this chain of events to unfold (the tech writers sniping at each other is a new wrinkle). Path, Twitter, Foursquare and many others are in hot water for the practice but the biggest hit it going to be aimed at the platform provider that made all of this possible: Apple. There are many benefits to uploading a users’ address book. But, the presumption of doing it automatically without user consent is what makes people angry. Developers: you have seen this roadmap play out before and knew what would happen if you got caught. So, why did you do it? That is the topic of this week’s ReadWriteMobile poll.
To be honest, I am not expecting many mobile developers to actually vote in this poll. Those who have not yet been caught are probably quite busy make sure that they no longer upload user contacts without consent and destroying the evidence that they ever did.
But the question remains. Did you think you would not get caught? Did you think the benefits outweighed the innocuous apology you would have to issue eventually? Or maybe you thought that this would be a week-long controversy to be replaced in the news cycle by the next week-long controversy and you can just return to business as usual? (You are probably right.)
Or maybe it is the culture. Many times startups think more about the benefits of an action or feature to their data pipelines than the tangible consequences of the real world. It is OK to cop to it. You are trying to create a business and there are lots of reasons you do the things you do. If bending the rules can give you a jumpstart, I do not know many business people in the world that would not readily take that route.
Apple said today that uploading users’ contacts without permission is against the iOS guidelines and that it will require all publishers to make the service opt-in. This is not the first time that Apple has got in hot water about privacy issues. Almost a year ago there was the controversy of Apple and other mobile operating systems tracking user location without their consent. Apple put the kibosh on the practice fairly quickly after that. It behooves Apple to make is iOS developer ecosystem a lucrative place to publish and may have been a little too laissez-faire with its policies in these two instances.
So, developers, why did you do it? We understand that there may be some perfectly good reasons. Take the poll (it is completely anonymous) and let us know in the comments what your thought processes were.