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Palm Responds to Privacy Concerns


Palm responded to my post late Friday in connection to the LA Times story highlighting some privacy concerns connected to its GPS enabled Pre phones. I want to make sure I post as much as I can about Palm's position in all this so that everyone is clear about what Palm can and can't do, does and does not, will and won't. At least so far as the company is willing to share these details.

Palm spokesperson Lynn Fox wanted me to make sure I knew that users can turn the GPS feature on and off, at their discretion.  This all stems from the Times report that showed that Pre user discovered that his phone was transmitting its physical location back to Palm without him knowing about it.  Further, the phone was also sending data to Palm about what applications it was using. Seemed to me, and many of you, like a breach in privacy.

Fox begs to differ, with the company being completely upfront about these particular features, why they exist, and how users can turn them off if they want.  The company's full statement reads:  “Palm takes privacy very seriously, and offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off. 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.”

Fox also points out the data transmitted to Palm is completely anonymous, adding "We don't know who the data belongs to.  It is only tied to a device for the sake of providing optimal location and usage results."

And finally, Fox says "users are informed about this policy and agree to it before using their Palm Pre.  They agree to the privacy policy in the End User License Agreement on the device and the language is very clear:  'Location Based Services. 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.'"

Yes, crystal clear, but part of a more than 1,600 word privacy policy that I would argue the vast majority of Palm Pre owners never took the time read.  At least many of you who have written to me haven't read it.  Shame on you!  (Kidding, but another not-so-gentle reminder to read the fine print, and caveat emptor.)

And you've got to dig even deeper to figure out the way to disable this feature.  If you can find those directions at all.  No simple point-and-click that I can tell.  And at what cost?  What if I want my GPS to work some of the time, but not all of the time?  Is there an easy way to toggle back and forth?  What if one moment I want all the functions of GPS, but the next I want GPS without sending data back to Palm to "collect?"  And can I do this app by app so that at a given moment, if I'm walking down a street and I have a hankering for a slice of pizza, I launch a GPS app that tells someone somewhere where I am, I can get that info without having to launch and disable and launch and disable over and over again?  Also, is my Palm Pre constantly sending a signal back to Palm with my location all the time?  Or just once a day?  And if that's the case, what good is it?  And why track what apps I'm using?

Palm makes the case that its privacy policy and the GPS stuff is no different than what many other carrier and phone makers have and do.  Which might very well indeed be the case.  But after the flood of emails I've gotten about this since Friday, I'd make the case that a lot of people weren't aware of it.  Maybe they should have read the fine print, but they didn't.  And now that they are aware of this, they aren't happy about it.

No biggee either way, but at least now it's out there for everyone to talk about.  Not buried in a privacy statement or user's agreement.  I've playing email tag with Palm this morning and as soon as I get more, I'll post it here and/or Twitter it.

(Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jimgoldman for more on this discussion and other news

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