Palm Pre debacle highlights location privacy issues

Users need to become more careful when sharing location data, says analyst

Reports about Palm keeping track of Pre users have shown how location services can backfire, and the importance of making users aware of how information is used.

On Wednesday mobile application developer Joey Hess wrote in his blog that the Pre periodically uploads location data to Palm. He was widely quoted, and the information left some readers upset.

Palm responded by saying that it takes privacy very seriously, and offers users ways to disable data collecting services.

Location services are one of the hottest sectors in the mobile application market. As their popularity increases, the number of companies that users share location data with will inevitably rise. Knowing a person's location takes privacy concerns to a whole new level, said Nick Jones, vice president at market research company Gartner.

"Your identity being hacked on the Internet is unpleasant, but that is completely different from someone finding you and doing something," Jones said.

The most important thing for vendors, operators and application developers is to be open and up-front with how they collect and plan to use location data.

Just leaving it up to users to read through the fine print in the terms and conditions of applications and devices isn't going to cut it, Jones said. If users are surprised by how their information has been used its going to create a lot of bad PR, according to Jones.

Clear opt-in and opt-out procedures have to be in place when subscribers sign up for a service, according to Paolo Pescatore, analyst at CCS Insight. Users need to be told which companies they are actually sharing their data with, he said.

Application stores can also play an important role when it comes to keeping application developers honest.

"One option is for providers of application stores, when they are certifying applications, to be especially careful around the handling of sensitive information, whether that is location or banking information ... just to ensure you are giving consumers an extra level of protection," said Jonathan Arber, senior research analyst at IDC.

But users will also have to become more aware and be a bit careful when they share location information, just as they are now careful about sharing their banking information on Web sites, according to Arber.

The sensitivity and privacy implications of location data will also attract regulators.

In June two Swedish government authorities launched an investigation into how operators handle data related to location-based services.

The investigation, lead by the Swedish Post and Telecom Agency and Swedish Data Inspection Board, which deals with protecting individuals' privacy in the information society, is ongoing. But Jonas Agnvall, a Data Inspection Board lawyer, underscored the importance of informing users about how the location data is used.

Regulating location based services should only be a last resort, analysts agree.

"At this point I don't see a need for regulation. The ideal situation would obviously be that the industry self regulates," said Arber.

For regulators to preempt technology is very difficult, because it isn't known what exciting and useful developments will emerge in the future, said Jones.

If regulators do decide to act then they should regulate principles and not technology, so that they don't inhibit innovation, he said.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags PalmPalm Pregeolocationprivacy

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?