Some of the Palm Pre's information-collecting practices are being
called into question, after application developer Joey Hess wrote on his blog
12 that he'd taken a closer look at his Pre's WebOS and realized it was sending
his GPS coordinates and other information,
such as which applications he used and for how long, to a Palm database.
Like Hess, many Pre users were surprised to discover this was happening and
expressed a sense of privacy violation. Hess even offered his readers a bit of
coding to block the function.
the sort of document likely few of us tend to read, it states:
"When you use location based services, we will collect, transmit, maintain,
process, and use your location and usage data (including both real time
geographic information and information that can be used to approximate
location) in order to provide location based and related services, and to
enhance your device experience."
Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, believes this
doesn't quite go far enough.
"I believe [it] is the responsibility of the service provider to inform
users of what information is being collected and how it may be used, and I
believe that the privacy statement should be given prominence, not buried in a
lengthy agreement," he told eWEEK.
"Most software products and Websites put their privacy policies front and
Palm responded to allegations of its "spying," as some media outlets called
it, with an official statement that said it takes privacy very seriously. It
very detailed language about potential scenarios in which we might use a
customer's information, all toward a goal of offering a great user experience.
For instance, when location based services are used, we collect their
information to give them relevant local results in Google Maps. We appreciate
the trust that users give us with their information, and have no intention to
violate that trust."
Analyst Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, offers some
perspective by describing his experience when he visited the Soviet
Union in the 1980s.
"People always had a sense that someone was monitoring them, even though
there wasn't much technology for that back then," Kay told eWEEK. "You had to
assume that your information was being broadcast to the whole country, basically
because you couldn't be sure that it wasn't. Now, people are putting so much
information out there, on Websites and whatnot ..."
Kay said the Soviet population was "incredibly adept at understanding
information management," whereas Americans tend to be "remarkably na???ve" about
information, how it's collected and the value of it.
Does Palm need to be more upfront?
"I think it's caveat emptor
," Kay said. "You can't assume that you're
anonymous. ... You leave digital footprints wherever you go." The moment you use
a GPS application to helpfully figure out
your location, or find something, that information exists on a server
somewhere, he explained.
"Americans always want to push the blame to somebody else," Kay said, "but
this is a case where I think we need to pull our own socks up and take
For a bit of summer reading he suggests "The First Circle" by
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. "It's all about this-even though this technology didn't
For those Pre users not wanting to share their whereabouts, they need not
rely on Hess' bit of code.
"Pre users can opt to have their Pre never send any location data by going
to Location Services on the phone," a Palm spokesperson told eWEEK.
"Easiest way is to simply open up your phone and start typing-Universal
Search will pull up the app."