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johnon.com  Competitive Web & SEO
August 13th, 2009 by john andrews

Palm on Pal Pre Privacy: We’re Just as Slimy as the Rest of our Industry

It seems Palm has decided that they are OK with being slimy about undisclosed privacy and user tracking. Give a chance to comment on the recent expose about detailed user tracking buried inside the Palm Pre, they tell us (paraphrasing) “everybody does it” and “we’re happy our users trust us”.

MobileCrunch re-highlighted this news from a CNET article, but goes easy on Palm, while exposing how they track users location, what applications they have been using, what applications they have installed on the Pre (including those not authorized by Palm), and other personal data unique to the user’s Palm Pre. If you read the article literally, it is almost as if they had been threatened by Palm and were treading lightly.. exposing but being careful to not openly suggest the Palm Pre was a privacy-invading abuse of consumers.

The Economist wrote about cell phone tracking, and location-based services do indeed need to report back location in order to deliver maps, directions, etc. But they don’t need to report back all that other personal data that Palm is collecting from Palm Pre users.  According to the MobileCrunch article:

When it comes to location tracking and device activity, you must alert the user and specifically request permission. If you don’t, you are spying, plain and simple. Regardless of what Palm is doing with this data, the user needs to be completely aware that it is being sent.

Palm seems to disagree. See this excerpt from Palm response (emphasis added):

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.

They have no intention to violate your trust! How re-assuring, no? How about if a vendor asked you for your social security number and mother’s maiden name, and assured you they had no intention of violating your trust?

I have a follow up question for Palm. One day, when a Junior Marketing Executive at Palm gets a brilliant idea to exploit some of that juicy data, will Palm notify me of their new intent to violate my trust? I know they don’t have to, that’s the whole point.

Believe it or not, they’ve got that covered in the Privacy Policy as well. The default is that they can do whatever they want under that elastic justification “to enhance your device experience“. The lawyers make it sound less abusive by adding “For changes that are materially less restrictive or protective of your personal information than the privacy policy in place at the time of collection, we will seek your consent before implementing any such change.” Hard to imagine a case where they make an open, elastic data use agreement more restrictive, if that is even possible.

Scrutinize the Palm Pre Privacy Policy here, but be careful because Palm lawyers are just as clever as the rest of the lawyers in this industry: “We reserve the right to change our privacy policy. Please check our website periodically for changes…

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