How to turn off Palm Pre's 'Big Brother' data collection

Debian developer Joey Hess this week pulled the covers off of Palm's WebOS, and showed some interesting things going on in the background. Apparently, Palm Inc. collects daily samples of the user's location, which apps he has installed and his usage of them, and app crash logs.

As expected, many have panicked at the thought of both Sprint and Palm harvesting their usage data. But Palm appears to be working within the realm of its Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy, and the company's data-sharing policy has actually been a known issue since the Pre's release.

Palm and its subsidiaries, affiliates, partners, suppliers, and agents (collectively, Affiliates) may collect, store, access, disclose, transmit, process, and otherwise use your Registration Data, account or Device information, content, and technical data for Palm and its Affiliates to provide you with the Services, address your requests, provide technical support, process any transactions for your account, and otherwise in accordance with Palm's privacy policy. Palm may also provide or enable certain Services through your Device that rely upon location information. In order to provide such Services, Palm and its Affiliates may collect, store, access, disclose, transmit, process, and otherwise use your location data (including real time geographic information) in accordance with Palm's privacy policy. You also agree that Palm has the right, without liability to you, to disclose any information, including but not limited to your Registration Data and other information, to law enforcement authorities or government officials, to the extent Palm believes is reasonably necessary or appropriate.

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To appease those quick to invoke big brother, Palm issued a statement which said, "Palm takes privacy very seriously, and offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off. 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. For instance, when location based services are used, we collect their information to give them relevant local results in Google Maps. We appreciate the trust that users give us with their information, and have no intention to violate that trust."

Turning off Background Data Collection on the Palm PreThe main complaint for users now is that turning the data collection off is not simple or obvious enough. Hess said, "My approach to disable this, which may not stick across WebOS upgrades, was to comment out the 'exec' line in /etc/event.d/uploadd and reboot. However, then I noticed a contextupload process running. This is started by dbus, so the best way to disable it seems to be: rm /usr/bin/contextupload."

According to Palm, however, it's much easier than all that. Under Location Services, a user needs only to switch Background Data Collection to the "off" position and all this controversial location and app data will kept private.

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