Path's big bold plan to live stream your life

After licking its wounds from what was seen as one of the biggest privacy snafu's since Facebook's Beacon, Path is taking the reins from users with a unique form of data collection.

Path CEO Dave Morin and Wired senior editor Cliff Kuang during the Mixpanel Data Driven Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon. Nick Statt/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Dave Morin, co-founder and CEO of Path, on Wednesday outlined his social network's unique approach to data collection, called ambient, that lets Path's mobile app continuously collect data about location and activities and then automatically post it to a user's network.

Morin, in a sit-down with Wired senior editor Cliff Kuang during Mixpanel's Data Driven Conference here, outlined how Path is capable of utilizing a smartphone's sensors to continuously collect data about a user's location and activities, which is then transmitted to his or her Path. "It's silly that a user would have to always put in their location," Morin said, expressing that the name ambient is an unofficial term and that the feature has held different names over time.

As is now par for the course with Path, which was fined $800,000 by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in February over collecting and storing user data without consent, the ambient data collection raises an obvious privacy concern. But Morin said the feature is something a user must opt into upon signing up for Path, and that a large fraction of users are keeping it turned on.

Morin also claims that Path's algorithms can become attuned to your patterns of behavior using this ambient data collection, meaning the app will be able to figure out the moments of your life that are serendipitous and most interesting, thus making them the most sharable. It does this by learning from the data collected around a user's primary nexuses -- home and work. "We've tuned the algorithms such that you when break outside of those patterns and you go to a new area -- a new neighborhood or entirely new city based on large amount of travel distance -- we update your Path in a way that feels intuitive," Morin explained.

The goal of ambient data collection is threefold in Morin's words: generate content for its users to make their Paths more complete; to maximize serendipity with the ability to know which moments break out of users' ingrained patterns; and maximizing battery life. Morin said the company was very cognizant of the fact that utilizing smartphone sensors and constantly streaming data must be done in a way that doesn't drain a device.

Over time, this ambient data collection will play into Morin's overall strategy, which is to leverage data to inform design, especially with the inevitable age of wearable technology and how social networks like Path will have to remain smart about its continued integration with devices like Google Glass.

"There's a lot of volume and there's not a lot of quality," he said, "and as these werarables come online there's got to be quality."

 

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