Path tightens mobile app security

Two months after a report that it secretly collected user data, Path says all user data will now be hashed to preserve anonymity

Social networking service Path has upgraded the security of its mobile application in apparent response to a recent outcry over its data gathering practices.

In a brief blog post , Path said that a newly released 2.1.1 version of its software automatically hashes all user contact information in order to protect the privacy of the data.

All phone numbers, email addresses, Twitter handles and Facebook IDs that Path collects in order to connect users with their contacts, will in future be hashed the statement said.

"We hope our actions set a new standard in this field as we strive to serve you, our users, first," the note added.

Path's move comes a few weeks after the company found itself in the middle of a major privacy row after a Singapore-based programmer published a blog post describing how Path's journaling application for iOS and Android-powered phones, used by over 2 million users, was secretly collecting user address book data.

The Feb. 8 disclosure drew widespread attention to the data collection practices of mobile application vendors in general, and the processes that platform vendors such as Apple and Google use for vetting those vendors.

Two lawmakers-- Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield -- have asked that Apple respond to a series of questions about the company's polices for verifying the privacy practices of mobile application developers such as Path.

U.S Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), meanwhile, has called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple and Google for similar reasons

The outcry stemming from the programmer's disclosure pushed Path CEO and co-founder Dave Morin to quickly issue a public apology .

In his blog post, Morin acknowledged that the company had made a mistake in gathering the data but noted that the information was collected purely to improve the quality of friend suggestions made by the application.

Last month, Path was one of 18 companies hit with a class action lawsuit for allegedly distributing privacy invading mobile applications.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan , or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com .

Read more about security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

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