Analyst: Palm Should Have Highlighted Data Policy


Some users were surprised to discover that the Palm Pre collects information about their mobile phone use and their whereabouts. Should Palm have been more clear?

Some of the Palm Pre’s information-collecting practices are being called into question, after application developer Joey Hess wrote on his blog that he’d taken a closer look at his Pre’s WebOS and realised 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.

For its part, Palm may have felt a bit surprised as well, as in its Privacy Policy, 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 Web sites put their privacy policies front and centre.”

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 additionally says:

“Our privacy policy is like many policies in the industry and includes 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 Web sites and whatnot… ”

Kay said the Soviet population was “incredibly adept at understanding information management,” whereas Americans tend to be “remarkably naïve” 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 responsibility.”

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 exist then.”

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.”

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