Palm’s leaking mobile phone miscue

Matt Hartley writing for Lockergnome reports on a disturbing privacy problem with the Palm Pre, citing a BBC story. The detail of data being sent back to Palm is rather alarming, including user location, application usage patterns, and a list of applications installed on the phone.

Palm’s PR department, of course, responds with more spin than a Steve Mizerak masse shot. Quoting the BBC article:

Palm issued a statement about Mr Hess’ discovery and said it “offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off”.

It 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.”

“We appreciate the trust that users give us with their information, and have no intention to violate that trust,” said Palm.

Excuse me Palm, but I really think you just did exactly that. I would be willing to bet it has been intentionally made difficult to turn off the “data collecting services” you refer to.

It’s inexcusable to leak that kind of detailed data and bury it under some kind of legalese “privacy policy.” How about being honest about this and telling the user, in plain English, you’re going to do this the first time the phone is turned on?

And we wonder why Palm nearly went bankrupt. Wonder no more. At least now we know this time they’re going to sink for a good reason.

Mobile phone exclusivity agreements under fire

Reports from both ITworld and Infoworld detail an inquiry from four US Senators to the FCC, regarding the exclusivity arrangements wireless phone manufacturers (such as Apple and Palm) have been making with wireless telephone carriers (such as AT&T and Sprint).

This follows an FCC petition by the Rural Cellular Association asking the former to investigate these exclusivity arrangements.

The timing couldn’t be worse for AT&T, as the telecom giant is dragging their feet to support MMS and tethering, among other things. Apple’s other carrier partners worldwide have been able to handle this without issue.

However, it should be noted that AT&T is not the only wireless telephone carrier in the crosshairs of the Senators and the FCC. T-Mobile and Sprint are known to have made exclusivity deals as well, which would undoubtedly be subject to the same scrutiny.

All of this is definitely a step in the right direction towards respecting the freedom of wireless phone users, or in other words, the rest of us. It is long overdue, but there is still a lot of work to do once exclusivity agreements are seen for what they are: anti-competitive collusion.

There is still a lot of cleaning up to do after this, however. Most notably, it would greatly benefit the wireless telephone users if there was one and only one standard in use: GSM. CDMA needs to go the way of the dodo, the sooner the better; the network design takes a significant amount of freedom out of the hands of the user, where it belongs. I consider myself rather technologically literate, and I did not know this until fairly recently (about a year or so ago).

GSM networks and phones use SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards for authentication and identification (or how the network tells which phone belongs to which user). If one wants to change phones, one simply powers down the old phone, removes the SIM card from the old phone (usually hidden behind the battery to make it impossible to remove while the phone is powered on), inserts the SIM card into the new phone, and powers the new phone on. The carrier (phone company) never has to get involved.

On a CDMA phone, it’s nowhere near that simple. One has to take the new phone into the store and have a staff member key in a bunch of magic numbers, and make changes on the wireless network so the new phone is recognized as legitimate. The wireless telephone carriers have the control; they can choose not to let you use the new phone on their network at all if they see it fit. It is, in fact, in the carrier’s best interest to get the customer to buy a brand new phone instead of re-activating an older model.

I have been told that Sprint will not activate non-Sprint phones for their service (i.e. phones not branded for use with Sprint). I would not be surprised if Verizon (and any other CDMA carriers?) adopt a similar policy.

Fortunately, we may actually see the demise of CDMA in our lifetime. Verizon is already in the process of changing over to GSM; that would leave Sprint as the last national US CDMA carrier in existence.