How the tech industry is a virus

November 15, 2010: 11:56 AM ET

Download the latest iPhone app at your own peril. This year the scam is to grab all the user's data and resell it.

by Dave Winer, contributor

I woke up this morning to stories in my aggregator about Path.com. I had heard about it before its launch, and was intrigued by the name. Turns out it's yet another instant photo sharing iPhone app. I have limited enthusiasm for them, I already use my iPhone, extensively, with Flickr and Twitter.

Even so, first thing this morning I signed up for a Path account on my iPhone.

After entering my name and email address, gender and password, it asked if it can use my location. I said yes. Then I went to the People section to start looking for friends to share my pictures with. I was astonished to see a list of suggestions, all of whom are people I know. I was confused. How could they know I know all these people? I jumped to an incorrect conclusion, they were all following me. I smiled -- it's really cool that all these people, some of whom I haven't spoken with in years, are following me on Path. After happily adding eight people (noting that Andrew Baron had signed up twice, with two different email addresses), I realized that can't be it. Some of these people are so totally offline they could never be using this app on its first day of public existence.

So I went to Twitter and asked if anyone knew how they were doing it.

fr8d had the obvious (in hindsight) answer: They looked in my iPhone's address book.

I never said they could. What else did they do with my contacts? Send a copy to their server for safe-keeping? Foolish me, but I thought that was my iPhone and my contact list. I paid huge money for the iPhone, so it's not like it could be anyone's "business model" to use that data. But now, as far as I know, some unknown startup in California has all my data.

As I fumed, I said -- The tech industry is a virus.

An analogy: I'm standing on a subway platform and someone behind me is reading my credit card numbers aloud. I turn around and see they have my wallet. At that point does it matter if they're going to use the info to buy some goodies at Crate & Barrel or is the damage already done?

It's like spammers took over technology, just like the pet food guys did in 1999. Everyone has a scam. This year the scam is to grab all the user's data and resell it. It's gotten to the point where it's a risky proposition to try out a new iPhone product.

Another example: When I realized that any random Twitter app who you give your credentials to can download all your private direct messages, that was the end of me using Twitter apps that want credentials. Meanwhile the team at Twitter has always had access to this info. Who's to say their interpretation of one of their terms of service is that they get to analyze and mine every bit of text I enter into the system -- even text that's only meant for one other person to read?

It's bad. That's the point of this message. I'm trying to end it on a positive note but I can't think of one.

Dave Winer is a visiting scholar at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. You can read his blog at Scripting News and follow him on Twitter here.

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