Last month a story broke that Palm’s webOS operating system, used by the Palm Pre, would periodically send your location back to Palm headquarters. While it definitely stirred up the blogosphere, I didn’t really give it much thought. But a patent filed by Palm in November 2008, and revealed by Boy Genius Report today, sheds a little more light on why the location reports are happening. And even with my liberal privacy views, I find the reasoning a little scary.
The patent focuses on methods for delivering location-based advertising to Palm mobile device users. From a broad perspective, this doesn’t seem all that frightening. It’s bound to happen sooner or later with most mobile phones and location-based applications. But when Palm actually digs into the information you store on your device, such as the dates of birthdays and calendar appointments, the word ‘invaded’ is probably too mild to describe my feeling. And that’s exactly what the patent says Palm intends to do.
In step 845 of FIG. 8, in one embodiment, user-specific information is read from the wireless communication device and factored into the selection of an appropriate service (step 850). For example, many users record key dates in the memory unit of their portable computer systems. Information such as a birth date can be retrieved from memory and used to further specify an appropriate service in combination with the user’s rate and direction of travel and/or likely mode of transportation.
Also, information stored in the address book of a portable computer system can be used to identify not only that an associate is nearby, but that it is possible to meet. The user’s mode of transportation, direction of travel, rate of travel, and predicted position, as well as similar information for the user’s associate, can be correlated to determine whether a meeting is possible. That is, it is possible to determine the difference between whether the user and the associate are both walking to a common point, or whether they are passing in opposite directions on different sides of a highway.
Now, I highly doubt that Palm will use your stored information for anything malicious. But really, do you agree with this, even if it does improve the effectiveness of the ads delivered to your mobile device? For once, I sure as hell don’t!