The antisocial network: Path texts my entire phonebook at 6am

  • 0
  • April 30, 2013

Last night I went to bed blissfully unaware of the catastrophic faux pas I made earlier in the day – I signed up to Path, the social network/private messaging service.

For anybody who hasn’t used it before, Path was launched in 2010 and allows users to share photos and messages with a “high-quality” network built up of only their closest family and friends. It is this limited network aspect of it which co-founder and CEO Dave Morin believes differentiates it from Facebook and Twitter.

Path reached the 10 million user mark yesterday, enough to cause a significant dent in Facebook’s market share according to the Guardian. To celebrate I thought I would share my path; or rather, what happened when I signed up for the service.


When I rolled out of bed this morning the first I knew about what had happened was when my dad told me he’d received two text messages (one on his mobile, one on his work phone – neither of which are smartphones) about some pictures I wanted to share with him. While telling him that I’m not exactly sure what he was talking about my house phone rang – my mum uttered the usual exclamation of: “who could be ringing at this time?” as I answered.

It was my grandparents. The first thought that crossed my mind was that there must be some kind of emergency, because it isn’t generally socially acceptable to ring people at 6am if there isn’t one.

Not exactly an emergency – they wanted to know about the photos I apparently have to share with them (I  don’t have any photos to share with them), which must be important because they got a phone call about them on their house phone at 6am.

Try explaining to your grandparents down the line that they couldn’t download Path to their landline even if they wanted to (they don’t want to).

As soon as I put the phone down…it rang again. It was Path, explaining that I have some photos to share (I don’t have any photos, and if I did I would have already seen them).


I decided the best place to contact them would be Twitter (after all, who makes phone calls at 8am?!) – not knowing their handle (@path, FYI), I searched for them. The first thing I saw was a press release from the FTC back in January which explained that Path is known to improperly collect personal information from users’ mobile address books.

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, so that press release sounds like it’s still pretty accurate a few months down the line.

I tweeted Path to enquire what had happened:



Set off for work – my aunt texted me while I drove to B3 Towers enquiring about the photos I apparently have to share with her (I don’t have any photos to share with her – I uninstalled Path yesterday before actually sharing anything).

Path texting entire phonebook

I sent an apologetic text message as I arrived in the Branded3 offices, and colleagues started to question me about photos I wanted to share with them (I don’t have any photos to share with them). At least these people have smartphones.

I checked Twitter to see if anyone else had experienced a similar problem with Path. Someone had replied to my tweet – the answer was yes!


Path actually issued an apology in February 2012 as a direct result of the way it accessed and stored members phone contacts without their knowledge, and Mr. Path himself, aka Dave Morin, had published this apology admitting that they’d made a mistake and new users would now be asked upon downloading the app whether they wanted to opt in or out of sharing their phone contacts.

When I was asked about inviting people to Path as I installed the app I said no, and without entering much in the way of personal information Path decided to text my entire phone book for me the day AFTER I uninstalled it from my Android.

Design33 in Edinburgh had seen my tweet to Path, and presumably have sent a few apologetic text messages to people in their address book too.

No response from Path yet – the guys over there are probably still in bed. In the meantime Path has called two plumbers; an electrician; a dentist; my girlfriend’s grandparents and a local takeaway, letting them know I have photos that they should probably see (I don’t have photos for them).

If you’ve experienced something similar when using Path, let me know in the comments below and I’ll update this post when/if I hear back from the guys at Path.


Path very helpfully got in touch with me just now (11 hours after I first tweeted them about this). Sent them a message, and will update this post later on!


Path’s VP of Marketing Nate Johnson. along with Dani Metz and some guys from The Hatch Agency (who help Path out with their marketing efforts) called me around half an hour ago trying to get a better idea of what happened – the guys at Path didn’t seem to realise that UK landlines (and I’m assuming it’s the same in several other countries too) read out text messages that are sent to them, so I guess I should clarify that I’m not talking about Path getting Microsoft Sam to call my plumber personally, it’s just a text message that gets read out.

They also assured me that Path doesn’t collect data from my phone book, and they definitely don’t have the number for my local takeaway stored somewhere – they had meant to send the messages WITHIN the half hour I was a Path member.

From Dani Metz:

Our product always checks that you’ve opted-in to share your contacts before it reaches out to those people, but we are investigating why there was a delay in doing so.

(I’m pretty sure I didn’t opt in…and I definitely don’t have pictures to share on Path.)


I just received an automated email suggesting I invite my friends to Path…three days after I uninstalled the app. Apparently they’re richer with the people I love!

Stephen Kenwright

About Stephen Kenwright

Stephen is Director of Search at Branded3's Leeds HQ and a columnist on Stephen is from a background in advertising; has an MA in Shakespeare; and now works closely with Branded3’s PR, Content Marketing, Design/Development and Paid Search teams to deliver SEO performance for some of the world’s biggest brands. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stekenwright

  • Design33

    They called my gardener, my friends and my childminder. Was getting some strange looks this morning… Apologies, again, everyone.

  • Steve Creek

    Stevey, stop being so coy and just show me the pictures already. I’ve been giddy with excitement since 6am this morning! xx

    • golfer75


    • Stephen Kenwright

      Sorry Steve, I don’t have any pictures (that you haven’t already seen).

  • joshkerr

    Path was fined by the FTC for $800K for doing this:

    • xstein

      Apparently they thought this was the fee to continue doing so, not a punishment!

    • wedtm

      No, Path was fined $800K for violating COPPA. The privacy issues were just icing on the cake.

      • Craig Montuori

        Right. FTC investigated (and shamed) Path for the broad privacy SNAFUs, but the only rules broken were related to how they were improperly failing to get parental permission from users under 13 years old (aka what COPPA covers).

    • Jessica Darko

      Nowhere near enough, plus what right does the FTC have to collect this money? Are they distributing it to the people whose rights were violated? Of course not! Path owes everyone whose rights they have violated a fine, not the FTC. (This is just another way that the collectivism that is “government” victimizes people– by taking for themselves the compensation that is due the actual victims of crime.)

  • Geoffrey ZuHone

    I have been using Path for over 2 years now and have never, ever had a problem with them accessing or sending texts to my contacts.

    Not to sound like that fanboy, but is it possible that Path, or whomever, is using the ease of access Android has to take advantage of its users?

    I don’t know obviously, but I have never encountered such a problem. It’s been my favorite app for a good year now, and it amazes me to hear that Path might be responsible for it.

    The only thing I can think of is if you used the “Find Friends” feature and it somehow decide to find ALL of your friends, lol.

  • Rex Morgan

    Thanks for sharing. I installed Path about two years ago, but after hearing about this I’ve uninstalled the app and deactivated my account.

    • Stephen Kenwright

      I uninstalled it before this even happened!

      Thanks for the comment Rex.

  • Terrence Andrew Davis

    TempleOS doesn’t have a PATH. Go to menu or go to filemanager , edit file, press F5. God talking is sampling high speed stopwatch for random numbers.

  • Sean Anderson

    “I have some photos to share with you” is the new “I have to return some videotapes”

  • Luca Hammer

    I use Path daily since the new App was released and had no problem of it contacting my friends without me telling it so.

    Did you maybe use the invite function in “find friends” or something like that? If this happened without doing so it is a real problem. Else this article is one of the best linkbaits I have seen in a long time.

    • Henning von Vogelsang

      I think it is relevant for other companies to learn what is bad and what is good brand behavior. Branded3 is a brand company, it makes sense to share this information on their blog. Brand experiences are very personal, human experiences.

      I turned my back to advertising and marketing because of this attitude that pushes into people’s lives and demands their attention. This has little to do with user permission (as in “permission marketing”). Not everything the user does or does not consciously permit is equal to ethical behavior.

      Methods like Path uses have also been used by Facebook previously, or Google+, when they first tried to turn every contact in Gmail into a Google+ profile.

      The increasing abuse of contact data by app providers was leading Apple to restrict access to the contacts in iOS. The user has to first activate this access, which shows up with a modal system message, independently of the app. No app can just access and use contact information on iOS before the user actively changes this in the system settings, or gives permission when they first use the app. The modal system message works better than a checked box somewhere in the app screen.

      Path has an agenda to grow as a network. These things don’t happen by accident. Path knew that even if they violate user’s trust, they will still grow quickly in numbers, which will gain them increased coverage and interest by the media.

      There are social networking companies that try to differentiate themselves from similar services, by providing a better service or a different edge in social interaction. Then there are those that didn’t have a better idea than, say, Facebook, so their only choice seems to do whatever it takes, no matter the cost, to grow user numbers.

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Hi Luca, thanks for your comment.

      I definitely didn’t opt in, and I’m pretty sure I opted out. The guys at Path have assured me this is an error.

      You’re right that Path doesn’t do calls – in the UK landlines ring and read out text messages that are sent to them, the Path guys did not specifically try to call my contacts.

      …and it’s posted on a company blog because I work for Branded3, who are a social media agency…and if I posted it on my personal blog nobody would read it!

      • mikemike9

        On my little Android phone (it’s running 2.3), when I install a new app in Google Play, sometimes I find myself staring at the tickbox for ‘allow automatic updating’ and wondering if it is ticked or not ticked. I end up toggling it a couple of times to work out which is which, because the difference between the on and off states is WAY too subtle.

        No idea if this is the problem here, and even if it was the problem… it really isn’t the problem. The problem is that Path are smarmy blighters who do something that nobody could EVER POSSIBLY WANT in a way that is COMPLETELY TONE-DEAF and in response they are sorry to hear about your ‘issues’ and want to ‘engage’.

        I essentially stopped using Facebook recently and I find myself telling friends that I am not actually making any sort of protest; Facebook is neither bad nor good, and I only stopped using it for my own reasons.

        I wouldn’t be so comfortable about Path, whose ‘close friends only’ pitch was always going to collide with actually making money in some icky ways.

        • Stephen Kenwright

          Absolutely Mike…plus wouldn’t you want to tell your close friends yourself if you find something good? You definitely don’t want to text your previous employer about it.

    • kodekn

      Luca Hammer, you sound like you work at Path. Or just some annoying fanboy who takes it personally when an app he uses isn’t seen by everyone as the second coming.

      • Luca Hammer

        I don’t work at Path but I like their vision and am a avid user. I have no problem with people who don’t like the app and/or the vision. My problem with this article (and most of the news sites that reported about it) is the spin of the story.

        I am mad at Path for deceiving users into inviting all their contacts. This screenshot shows the problem:

        Path did not call anyone (as was now clarified in the article). Path did not invite people without the permission of the user. Path did not hack into the users adress book or anything like that.

    • Jesusdoppelganger

      “Why is this article posted on a company blog?”

      If it’s OK with the company, c’est la vie. Possibly the dissatisfaction with Path reflects the company’s viewpoint.

  • Eric Powell

    “two plumbers; an electrician; a dentist; my girlfriend’s grandparents and a local takeaway,”

    Sounds like Path is indeed a “high-quality” network… I always keep both my plumbers in my inner circle too…

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Ha! You’d keep them in your phone book though…

      Thanks for the comment Eric!

  • fettemama

    lelel, that’s what you get for being a social media hipster :3

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Lesson learned!

  • alexanderous

    Wow, phone calls too? Getting a phone call for most anything app-notification-related seems extremely excessive.

    • David White

      In the UK, BT and all(?) the other landline telephone service providers, will translate an SMS into a voice call if the person inadvertently sends an SMS to a landline number.

      • calvintennant

        This happens in Canada, too.

      • Stephen Kenwright

        That’s true, thanks David. Have clarified in the post above.

  • Simon Morgan

    So I heard you have some photos to share with me?

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Maybe on Instagram or something.

  • Mike Hughes

    My wife signed up for Path for about an hour last year and promptly deleted her account. Since then I get random text messages saying that she is inviting me to Path, usually around midnight. I really hate all of these social “businesses” that believe in the idea of getting traction at any/all costs.

  • Igor Guerrero

    pics or gtfo

  • Jessica Darko

    Path owes you money. Not just an apology, but damages. This negatively impacts your reputation, but even if only slightly, their mis-use of your personal information is a crime (Even if its “legal” its still a moral crime.)

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Only slightly? I have LOADS of people in my phone book!

      Thanks for the comment Jessica!

  • Gaëtan Voyer-Perrault

    It looks like @joshkerr:disqus found the smoking gun here:

    Only solution I can think of is to call everyone on that write-up and ensure that they still know this is happening months later. (and possibly hit up the Techcrunch’s of the world :)

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Absolutely Gaëtan, keeping an eye on the situation…thanks!

  • Andrei

    “and would love to engage”

    • Anelya Grant

      This is AWESOME! I would totally say yes to captain Picard! :)

  • TekGrl

    My husband, a non-techie in every sense, received the same “I’ve got pictures to share with you” text from a friend (luckily not at an unreasonable hour). So, he bumbled through the sign up process to see the pictures, only to find out there were none. His friend was completely unaware that the message even went out. Sounds like an epic fail if they have known about this issue for more than a year. :(

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Absolutely…at least he COULD sign up. Imagine getting a message about it on a pre-2000 mobile phone…or a landline…

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Yannis Peyret

        You don’t even need to be on a pre-2000! try pre-2007! 2000 was the glorious era of the Nokia 3310 :-)

  • MikeBell2000

    Garbage company and a spammer app.

  • Lowell Kirsh

    I assume you are not using the latest version of iOS? I’m pretty sure apps can’t access your contacts without permission on the latest iOS.

    • Stephen Kenwright

      No Lowell, I’m using Android. Ice Cream Sandwich still.

      • Colin Montgomerie

        They can’t on Android either, but you give them permission by installing…

  • Justin Moreland

    It is worse as in my brother said he kept getting messages from me about Path every few weeks & said my parents had too. To make matters worse, I couldn’t log into the online account for a few weeks. I think I have it deactivated now, but I still don’t trust them, because they still have all my data even if I deactivate.

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Hey Justin, they assured me that they don’t keep the data, they only use it once. Keep an eye on it…if they send more messages then we’ll know that’s not exactly accurate…

      • Allison Hwang

        Funny story. I deactivated my account yesterday around 2-3pm via Path’s provided web link. This morning (post-deactivation) I was notified by friends/family that they still received texts/emails between 12-5am regarding “pictures I wanted to share” with them. Hoping this doesn’t happen again.

        The “user error” that occurred on my part was pressing the “back” button when I decided I didn’t want add contacts after all (instead of “unselect all” and “next”).

        • Stephen Kenwright

          I think there’s a reasonable chance I made the same error Allison. Thanks for the comment!

  • MZ

    How the heck does Path still have access to the telephone network? Surely their communications providers should be well aware of their tactics by now, especially after the FTC action. It seems that their telecom gateways should be held responsible as well.

  • timrpeterson

    Path CEO was former facebook employee, surprising not at all

  • Zachary Reiss-Davis

    This is no more justifiable, nor any less sleazy, than ad-ware / “free toolbars” crap-ware that gets bundled with some software. In both cases, it is designed to prey on the people who don’t understand what they are clicking on or are moving to fast.

  • timrpeterson

    FB=Path=sketchiness at all cost

  • y0z2a


    • Stephen Kenwright

      I already uninstalled before they even sent the messages…

  • mk45

    Path is now being sued in the Illinois for doing the exact same thing to another user….it likely will be a class action so you may want to join. What Path is doing is scooping your address book (either with your consent or not), then they are spamming all your contacts via SMS to try to get your contacts to install the app. Here is a link to info on the law suite:

  • K.C. Murphy

    I have been on Path since July 2010, with several other folks – even after hearing of the initial breach. I have never had a problem with the app, or privacy. What the heck are people DOING with this app that gets them in such trouble? It seems a little odd to me… I am on iOS in America on AT&T – I wonder if it’s oddly not friendly or well-developed for platforms/networks that are NOT AT&T or iPhone? It’s a real shame, because the app itself is gorgeous, smooth, and fast – impeccable interface.

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Hey K.C., it seems to be mainly outside the US that landlines ring and read out text messages, not something that seems to happen over there.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • K.C. Murphy

        I totally understand about the reading-out of text messages confusion – yes, not a US thing. My comment was more to express my sympathy for Path. It seems to keep getting in the face of people who happen to be in the face of Social Media commenting Obviously NO app should EVER – no matter what the user error might be – behave so badly, but they just seem to find the perfect public moment to screw up in a BIG way. It’s really a shame, because EVERY Social Media app should DREAM of having such a fabulous mobile interface as Path.

  • mk45

    Path is now being sued in the Illinois for doing the exact same thing…. likely will be a class action so you may want to join. What Path is doing is scooping your address book with our without your consent, then spamming all your contacts by SMS to try to get your contacts to install the app. Here is a link to info on the law suite:

  • jdrch

    I can’t help but LOL HARD at all the people who jumped on the Path bandwagon, especially viewing it as a Facebook alternative. 1st they steal your contacts, now they’re spamming them? This is rich. Keep this episode in mind the next time you hype an intrinsically worthless app/startup.

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Hey jdrch, I hadn’t heard of Path until the day before yesterday – the Guardian reported that they were eating into Facebook’s market share so I thought I’d give it a try. Just goes to show you don’t have to be a bandwagon hopper…you just have to try signing up.

  • Scritti Politti

    These jagoffs just don’t learn. Apple should’ve banned them from the store the first time. Is this virus of an app still in there?

  • Tim Allison

    I think the idea of Path not looking into the outcome of sending SMS messages to landlines in other countries shows a definite lack of engagement into the markets they’re trying to penetrate. It appears they may just assume that all countries operate like the States, or do they not really care; either way this is unacceptable behavior by a company trying to attract people to their service. As a potential user I’m not interested in a company that doesn’t have the foresight to inquire in how their practices may cause disruptions in my life. It makes me wonder what other pitfalls and shortcomings are also waiting there to blow up in people’s face that use it. Trust is today’s currency and these guys are broke…

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Hi Tim, totally agree…and there’s not really any point in them sending text messages to house phones in any country.

      • mikemike9

        In the UK they can basically tell from the number, too; it would be very easy to simply not do it. I’m not sure how many other countries use our non-geographic number scheme for mobile numbers, but even with the full long IANA country code list, it wouldn’t be impossible effort to build a scheme to avoid voice-only devices; it’s far fewer people pissed off with robot voices.

        The US doesn’t as I understand it have non-geographic numbers so that scheme wouldn’t work, and people increasingly cut the cord there and only have a mobile number and a DSL line. And in that case, it’s people flagged in the addressbook as ‘home’ that Path most wants to, er, inform, I guess.

        When you break this down, there’s really only ‘dumb’ and ‘dumber’. I don’t know how bulk-messaging an address book can ever be whittled down to merely ‘dumb’; as you infer in your reply to my other comment, there’s just no way to judge the appropriateness of any single send, so the whole idea is stupid.

  • Fellow Traveler

    Why are you using centralized social networks in the first place? Hitler could only dream of such power.

  • John Cram

    The are just a “Path” to foolishness. As if ANYONE would want to “opt in” to have everyone on their contact list sent a message/picture. Get real. Just another dumb social app.

  • Jay Fuerstenberg

    What is this? The third time Path has betrayed user trust/privacy in a year?

    I’m glad I uninstalled Path months ago.

  • Douglas McLellan

    They are lying to you. It emailed and texted and called people in my address book that are not even on Facebook at all. Including people in my work app (Touchdown) who have never been contacted other than for work purposes.

    • Stephen Kenwright

      Hey Douglas, thanks for the comment – I don’t think they texted people I have on Facebook at all as far as I’m aware. It literally went through my phone’s address book.

  • Snake

    you realize at this point the media is calling it “user error” right? “Kenwright fell victim to user error, representatives from Path said, and the messages are a feature, not a bug.” i believe you kenwright, so you should settle the score.

  • bacq

    I hate these malware apps. Thanks for the warning to ever install this app ever, so will I warn my network. (never heard of it before lol, but will be on watch lol)

  • Abe

    Last night I was up at 1 am programming. A friend called me right at that time and as it turns out it was an app calling me. My friend said an app he has keeps calling and texting people. I haven’t yet to confirm, but I’m thinking it is Path.

  • Davide

    Hi Stephen,
    The same happened to me yesterday morning!
    I installed Path 2 days ago. Lucky I was, since I didn’t opt to share any contact from my phonebook… but I made the mistake of “inviting” my wife (and installing Path on her iPhone).
    Atm the damage is limited: she received a message yesterday morning from “me” (???) telling her that I had pictures to share with her..
    I immediately went on removing Path from my phone and deactivating both our accounts (not before changing our contact emails in their system, just in case..)
    No matter how you look at it, this is the worst SPAM I’ve ever seen..
    It’s simply annoying. :(

  • Stephen J. Weber

    I noticed all of Path was behind a good three hours yesterday: timestamps, notifications loading properly, and the emails that commented on your . Perhaps that was why the spam took so long to go out. Nonetheless, not cool Path. Not cool at all. For being the “private” social network, they sure as hell don’t seem to respect user privacy very well.

  • Josh Thatcher

    Glad I didn’t ever join. I tried but their login screen simply didn’t work for me on iPad.

  • James Agnew

    This same nonsense happened to me a few months ago. Started a big Reddit thread about the whole affair. What a load of crap. I’ve been doing my best to alert anyone I see using Path about their practices ever since.

  • Scott

    This story is spamming all my news feeds.

  • hasmatt

    Wouldn’t this be grounds for an FCC complaint? Anyone know? Google and many other (e.g. What’s App) have been slapped in the past for taking user data without permission and then storing it for longer than they’re allowed to. It would seem that deleting an app should trigger the data holder (i.e. Path) to not retain the data past that point, nevermind user data that you didn’t authorize sharing to begin with.

    It seems that Path has a privacy problem that just won’t go away because it seems to be built into their very business model (ironic for a social network intended to be small/intimate–i.e. not an entire address book).

  • Motmaitre

    So um…just to be clear…do you or do you not have some photos that you’d like to share?

  • Stephen Kenwright

    I have some photos, but not on Path…and they’re definitely not what you want to see at 6 in a morning.

  • Stephen Kenwright

    I saw your Reddit thread James, thanks for the comment too. It’s great to see so many people sympathising with each other.

  • Stephen Kenwright

    “I can see how that would be inconvenient for you.”

  • Stephen Kenwright

    I agree Davide, really annoying. Silver lining is that at least it won’t break people’s phones if they click on the link like some other spam programs.

  • Mukarram

    @Stephen: Oh man! Don’t hide – Please show us the pictures 😉

  • Zakaria Desai

    Lol – waiting for the follow up post titled : “The Photo’s”

  • Victor pouet

    It’s 2:30AM in France, near Paris where I’m from. I just got THAT f*cking message on my cell phone ! But.. in French ! That’s the reason why I googled “path spamming”, because it was weird… I really enjoyed your article, then I’m sharing with you, not my photos, but this experience, from the other side of the phone.

    I don’t know if my friend opted in or out, but Path is really guilty of spamming adress book (they even translate the spamming message in French) plus… they seem to enjoy doing it… RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT !

    I should switch it off… Good night !

  • Fredric Andersson

    For iOS users: go to your privacy settings on your phone, go to the ‘Contacts’ setting and disable Path. Do this preferably before you sign up for the service.

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