Path, the photo-centric social network that just hit 10 million users yesterday, has been getting some heat for what some users say are spammy tactics to recruit new users. Digital marketer Stephen Kenwright downloaded the app earlier this week, tried it out, uninstalled it, and went to bed. When he woke up, he found that Path had gone on a rogue mission early in the morning, texting and robocalling an unknown number of his contacts, including his grandparents.
By the time Kenwright got to work, it became clear that Path had gotten in touch with his entire phone book. Coworkers, friends, and family were asking him about the text or phone call they'd received from Path, which stated that Kenwright wanted to share photos with them.
"Having uninstalled the app yesterday when I decided it wasn’t for me, I’m going to go ahead and assume that Path took this data out of my phonebook sometime during the half hour I had it installed," Kenwright said in a blog post about the incident.
Path doesn't call users; the robocalls were an unintended consequence, possibly due to extra carrier services that turn text messages to landlines into phone calls. However, the service does send mass messages to a user's Facebook friends during the sign-up process. By default, Path assumes you want to send a message to all your Facebook friends, displaying a list with every name checked. The user must then tap "unselect all," or Path will text a signup link to every friend. This configuration has been in place since Path's last release on March 6th.
Path has been on a huge growth spurt, adding a million new users a week, and these evangelical tactics are part of the reason why. Users have been complaining about the aggressive messages for months.
@verge I've received 10 in the last day. Beyond annoying because they are all for the person who used to have this number.— b1ng0s (@b1ng0s) April 30, 2013
Path has had problems with scraping user contacts in the past, and even earned a slap on the wrist and an $800,000 fine from the Federal Trade Commission for grabbing minors' numbers.
Kenwright fell victim to user error, representatives from Path said, and the messages are a feature, not a bug.
"Path is really best with friends and we really want to help users invite the people that they care about to their Path as quickly as possible," said Nate Johnson, VP of marketing for Path. Johnson said the Path customer service team has reached out to Kenwright, but right now it looks like nothing went wrong with the app.
The startup found that users have a better experience when they have at least eight friends or family members using the app as well, Johnson said.
But given the complaints, it seems like Path may want to make the sign-up page say "select all" instead of "unselect all."
"That's certainly something we're thinking about, but nothing really to report yet," Johnson said.
Update: Kenwright has updated his blog post with a clarification from Path. The company meant to send the messages during the time he was signed up for the app and "didn’t seem to realize that UK landlines... read out text messages that are sent to them." Path is investigating why there was a delay in the timing of the message delivery.