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Path's Dave Morin: No, really, I don't lie about this stuff

Does a 2010 e-mail from Path's CEO show how the company betrayed users' trust?

Gawker published this evening an apparently damning story to further the day's drama over Path sucking down contact lists from its iPhone users.

The story says that Morin has misled us in the past about Path's use of personal data and that it is safe to assume that Morin is playing fast and loose with customer data again. The evidence is an e-mail Dave Morin wrote to Ryan Tate at Gawker in 2010, saying:

One of our core principles here is that you must have contact information for someone in order to find them on Path. Usually, you have contact information for your close friends.

Path does not retain or store any of your information in any way.

See the full letter and surrounding story on Gawker, Don't Forgive Path, the Creepy iPhone Company that Misled Us Once Already.

Based on what we have learned about Path today, this letter now appears to be patently untrue. Path did collect and retain users' iPhone contact lists. So was Morin lying when he wrote to Gawker, or in today's apology, or both? Or is he, perhaps, unaware of what his company is doing or simply not in control of it? Or is there another explanation?

In response to a query to Path about this issue, Morin this evening issued this response:

The email exchange between Ryan Tate at Gawker and myself from November 15, 2010 was absolutely accurate. That was the day Path launched and we were not storing any address book information at that time, as I clearly stated in my email to Ryan. We introduced FriendRank in March 2011 and that is when Path began retaining contact information with the intent to maximize the Path experience, specifically by:

1) showing users a list of friends on Path
2) suggesting friends users might want to connect to
3) telling users when any of their contacts joined Path

We care deeply about our users privacy as evidenced by our actions today.

-- Dave Morin, CO-Founder and CEO of Path

This episode clearly illustrates how important it is for companies to be transparent about their use of customers' data and to disclose changes in use policies before they make them, not after the fact.

Large companies can clearly survive privacy missteps (Facebook; Google), but a loss of trust can sink a company that's still getting off the ground.