Dot Dot Dot: The art of the non-apology

Path and Pinterest show two ways to deal with communities in uproar.


Owen Thomas


Published Feb 9, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 9:39 pm CDT

Give Path CEO Dave Morin’s points for directness: He headlined a blog post apologizing for breaching users’ privacy “We Are Sorry.”

Boy, are they ever. Morin and his colleagues created a mobile social network whose latest version has won many breathlessly adoring fans—yours truly included. But they lost a lot of the love they’d garnered when they got caught uploading users’ entire address books to its servers.

Path is meant to connect you with your closest friends, including, or so the theory goes, people you call or text a lot. So it makes sense that they could use the information to suggest friends to add. The problem is that they never asked their users for permission.

Who’s the user here?

Hence Morin’s supine apology. In a smart move, Path deleted all of its users’ address-book data. Its latest version will still upload your contacts, but it will now ask permission first. Hey, it’s nice to be asked!

Honestly, I’m not the least bit concerned about Path having my address book. First order of business today: downloading the latest version of Path, uploading my contacts.

I’ve got some Pathtrolling to do, and I need to know when a new friend joins so I can smilebomb them into oblivion.

Aside from some eye-rolling comments, I haven’t seen any change in how my friends use Path. These kind of privacy squabbles make a lot of noise on Techmeme. The rest of us go on living our lives.

Honestly, this horse is out of the barn already. Do you use Facebook on your phone? You probably uploaded your contacts along the way, clicking through a host of meaningless consent buttons.

Facebook first partnered with, then acquired, a company called Octazen Solutions, which specialized in sneaky contact imports. The social network has also been accused by Irish authorities of building “shadow profiles” of nonmembers, based on its users’ uploaded contacts— a charge it denies.

Yet how do you explain Facebook’s eerily accurate suggestions of friends for users who just joined? It’s all in the contact data.

I’m more disturbed by Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann’s silence on a similar controversy: its practice of adding affiliate links so it can profit from purchases inspired by images its users pin on their boards.

E-commerce sites like have long given websites that refer customers to them a cut of the sale. It’s how Pinterest is quietly making money. The quiet part is the problem.

It doesn’t help that it’s using a service called Skimlinks to accomplish this feat. Get it? Skim. Links.

Note to self: When starting an e-commerce company, don’t name it after a form of white-collar crime.

Pinterest hasn’t spoken up, but Skimlinks cofounder Alicia Navarro has. Her response: Yeah, you got a problem with that?

Alicia, Alicia, Alicia. No one has a problem with Pinterest making money. Or “monetizing social discovery,” whatever that means. We have a problem with Pinterest being sneaky about it.

And Ben? You need to start talking, period. We don’t want to know about your uncle’s pinboard. We want to know where you’re taking this fast-growing community. People are pouring their passion into your site. These aren’t just collections of images; they’re hopes and dreams in pixel form.

Most Pinterest users are enthusiastic supporters of the service and would be delighted if the site’s operators simply came clean about its use of affiliate links.

Better yet: Cut them in on the deal. Split the affiliate dough 50/50. If you thought Pinterest was growing fast before, watch it really take off.

Photo by butupa

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*First Published: Feb 9, 2012, 1:43 pm CST