Data collection goes too far in a world where we are always connected, always wired into the system, it’s incredible to think how much information about us is being broadcasted into the void. Everyone’s doing it; Taco Bell wants you to call them toll-free to chat about your experience, Facebook wants your full name, as opposed to a fake screen name, Microsoft wants to gather information about your computer every time something crashes. Is our privacy really being invaded? We’ll talk about privacy and the popular Palm Pre phone that seems to be taking Data Collection too far.
Information makes the world go round. Fortune 500 companies will most certainly agree; one key to success is understanding your market. They yearn to know what people do with their products, what people like about them, and what they can do to make their products/services worth more. We may not like it, but it’s what makes these businesses a big deal. Enter the Palm Pre: a new, well-received addition to the Palm line of smartphones. Cell phones are in constant communications with cell phone towers, constantly sending data packets back and forth as long as you are in service.
What Palm Pre hacker Joey Hess discovered, was that the Pre’s WebOS was phoning home to Palm with a hefty log of information. Okay, so this isn’t too out of the ordinary. Your PC sends crash reports to Microsoft if you allow it to, and applications on my phone are always checking for new versions. What’s the problem? Upon further investigation, it turns out that the Palm Pre is sending a whole lot of private information to Palm, Inc. It uses the GPS to send them the phone’s exact location, tracks every application used, and for how long, as well as a more standard crash report. Palm has nice, vague privacy concerning this that doesn’t really clearly inform you that the information is being sent to them. So is this going too far? Do we really want our phone manufacturers to know where we are at all times? Do they really care? Is it for market research? Will they drop you a line when they catch you down in the Bahamas? While your guess is as good as mine, I don’t think this is a way that the proverbial man (aka Big Brother) is watching you. GPS info probably fit into the remainder of the packet, so Palm said ‘sure, why not?’ Either way, it just feels like it is going too far. A bug report? Fine. Give me a survey after a week of owning the phone if you want. Tracking me on my way to the grocery store is a little too far. What do you think? Are you concerned that your cell phone is monitoring your every move? Could all of this data, from millions of individuals, really be used against us, or is it simply paranoia and the data is simply for marketing research?