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Path: The iPhone app taking your address book

Molly Wood Feb 8, 2012

Path is a relatively new social network that has garnered a lot of critical praise. It operates on mobile phones only at this point and lets you share photos and messages with your friends. But there is such a thing as oversharing. It turns out the Path app for iPhone has been gathering up a user’s address book information and transmitting it, unencrypted, back to Path.

Path isn’t the only app in the world to use your information. When you install the Facebook app for iPhone, it tells you it’s going to send information to Facebook but it lets you opt out of that. If you’re like me, you’re thinking ‘Wait a minute, I download apps sometimes without doing a lot of research into the security history of every company that makes the app. Can any app just grab my address book and run off with it?’

“It is one of the dangers of loading these apps is they have access to a lot of information on your phone and any of them could be doing it,” says Chester Wisniewski of the security firm Sophos. “On Android phones, they usually give you specific permission warnings, that this app wants access to your address book, this application wants to read your photos. But on the iPhone, the only thing it really warns you about is your location, so it’s kind of up to Apple to be the keeper of what private information is ferried off.”

Path says it’s working on a new version of the iPhone app to make this address feature something you have to turn on.

Turns out there’s a whole lot of people working on apps. Not just at Path. It wasn’t that long ago that if you talked about “apps,” no one knew what you meant. Like, appetizers? Jalapeno poppers? Huh?

Of course, apps for smartphones and tablets are a huge business now. Hundreds of thousands of apps are available in Apple’s app store, Android’s app store, Amazon’s app store and other places. It’s not just on mobile gadgets, either. Facebook is loaded up with apps like “Farmville” which have brought in a lot of money and created a lot of jobs for the companies behind them.

And each of those apps had to be dreamed up by someone, built by someone, tested by someone, supported by someone. A new report from TechNet says apps have created 466,000 jobs and the app market is growing like hotcakes. “How can the U.S. dig itself out of the current job drought?” reads one section of the report. “Government policy can temporarily boost employment. The ultimate answer, though, is innovation: The creation of new goods and services that spur the growth of new industries capable of  employing tens or hundreds of thousands of workers.”

The organization that sponsored the study expects further growth in apps as more devices start to feature them. “About a third of American adults have smart phones,” says John Horrigan, vice president of research at TechNet. “So there is room for growth in adoption of smartphones, which would increase appetite for updated or new apps. There will also be a deepening of web-enabled devices in the coming years as bandwidth capacity expands. In a couple of years, you’ll be able to log in remotely to your fridge or other systems in your homes. There will be app development in the home sector.”

TechNet arrived at the figure of almost half a million jobs by searching on key words in want ads, conducting surveys, and using historical data. Then, they used a conservative estimate.

“I think actually it’s an underestimate of the overall jobs being created,” says Il-Horn Hann, a business professor at the University of Maryland. But before you drop everything and run off to be an app developer, please know that job openings don’t necessarily indicate long term security. “These could be well-paid jobs for a longer period, but they could also be temporary jobs, meaning, help me create an app for Facebook and this is for a period of two months,” says Hann.

Still, a Help Wanted sign is a Help Wanted sign, right? And that’s good news if you’re looking for work. Hann says, “Anyone who is looking for a job in this space will find one if they can show that they can do something.” So someone who’s smart, creative, and knows computers, may want to head this way? “If someone is bright, has computer skills and is entrepreneurial, then that is probably true. There is a new demand for skill sets — how to market this, sell this, react to consumer feedback. So it is more than just being good programmer. You have to know your segment and the market.”

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