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 newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags privacygeolocationPalmPalm Pre

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

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?