Both Path and Pinterest Just Made Big Boo-Boos, But One is Much Worse than the Other

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By: Hillel Fuld

Today is a drama-packed day in tech. While that is a good thing for us bloggers, the stories causing the drama are not quite as joyful. Before I jump into the details, let me just say this. I love Path and I love Pinterest and today’s events did not change that. Having said that, I fear that is not the case for millions of other people who have become daily users of these services.

OK, so what am I talking about? Let’s start with Path.

Hey, Path! Those are MY Contacts!!

Yes, a blogger who was trying to create a Mac app with the Path API stumbled upon something very interesting that has the whole tech world buzzing. Path takes its users’ whole address book and uploads it to the Path servers without a word to the users, not to mention the user’s consent.

Now, this is bad, no question about it, but not for the reason you are thinking. Path, at least since version two was released has everyone singing its praises. What is so great about it? As I wrote before, its design and overall UX is unprecedented. If Path would have asked me for permission to have access to my contacts to maintain the high level of its UX, I would have agreed without hesitation. There within lies the problem. No one asked me.

No transparency, no opt in, no disclosure. Bad move on the part of Path. Was this a malicious act of any kind? Absolutely not! The Co-Founder and CEO of Path commented on the original post explaining that they already made this system opt-in on Android and the iOS version will be on the App Store shortly. Morin is a solid guy who I have spoken to countless times and this was an innocent mistake that might have even been out of his hands.

Having said that, it was a mistake that is now leading to some really bad PR and as I told Dave, he is handling it perfectly. I do hope Path stands strong once all this drama passes. I also hope many other entrepreneurs learn from this saga.

Now onto Pinterest…

Wait, Pinterest Did WHAT to My Pictures?

OK, let me just say off the bat that I am clearly in the minority here when I say that in my opinion, the Pinterest “mistake” is much worse than the Path one.

Before I get into what Pinterest did, what is Pinterest? Well, I wrote about it here, but more important than my opinion, is the fact that according to comScore Pinterest is the fastest site to reach 10 million unique visitors in the history of the Web. In other words, Pinterest is HOT.

Today’s news is that Pinterest actively edits pictures uploaded by its users by adding its own affiliate tags in order to monetize the site’s content. You can read the details here but allow me to break it down for you.

As I have mentioned before, the Web is moving in the direction of less text and more visual. Pinterest is the ultimate visual experience. While that provides a superior UX, it also presents a serious business opportunity. Visual converts! People are more prepared to click on a picture than on text. We know that. So Pinterest did something brilliant. They enabled users to link their Pinterest “Pins”, i.e their photos to websites, whether it is a blog or an e-commerce site.

The effects on traffic to blogs has already been discussed. As far as e-commerce, Pinterest is widely regarded as a great platform to promote your own company if you are a business with visually appealing products.

Great. So what is the problem? Well, Pinterest is actually going into my photos that are linked to e-commerce sites and editing my link by adding their own affiliate link. That means when my followers click on my photo and end up buying the product on the site to which it was linked, the site/business gets paid and you know who else gets paid? Pinterest! On my back. Without my permission. And with no transparency of telling me that they are monetizing my content.

Like I said, in my personal opinion, this Pinterest story is far worse than the Path one. Why? For starters, Pinterest’s incentive here is money, Path’s is a superior UX. Path already responded and are fixing the error. Pinterest is nowhere to be found. Pinterest is actively editing my content and getting paid. Path is accessing my data and doing absolutely nothing with it, definitely not getting paid for that data.

The point is, this is definitely grey and there are two sides to the coin. In reality, it doesn’t matter which is worse. What matters is that both of these are bad  mistakes in business ethics and both of these stories present many different lessons from which other companies of all kinds in all industries can learn.

Now, I await the Path update with the opt in system and as for Pinterest, the ball is in their court.

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