Other proposed uses sound less appealing, however. Palm further asserts that it may use your personally identifying data to "measure interest in our products and services" and to "provide offers that might interest you." Were you aware that when you bought your Palm Pre, simply using it would make you part of a focus group?
And then there's the age-old catchall: Palm claims (naturally) that it may use your data "for other legitimate business purposes." But what does that really mean? Does the customer have no say at all?
These problems are compounded by the fact that Palm Pre customers are not engaged with Palm alone. One of the great strengths of Palm WebOS is that it's an open platform. Palm says it may share your user information "to third-party service providers and suppliers acting on [its] behalf to provide products or services to you." But what then? Once Palm has handed over your personally identifying information to a third-party vendor, where does it go from there? What are that vendor's terms of service? Will the third party be as dedicated to protecting your privacy as Palm itself? And suppose that someday Palm is acquired by still another company -- what happens to your data then?
These are hardly trivial issues. In the modern information economy, user data is rapidly becoming the new currency. Witness the rise of identity theft. The more information criminals know about you, the easier it is for them to usurp your identity for fraudulent or deceptive purposes. Unfortunately, data breaches are still far too common, preventative measures seem largely ineffective, and there's too little transparency into the ways in which customer data is shared behind the scenes.
Data Transparency for Customers -- or Else
The software industry is not the first to travel down this road. Financial institutions have maintained and shared sensitive customer information for years -- in fact, some would say that your credit score has become your single most important piece of personally identifying data. At one time, the information that financial firms passed among themselves was as secretive and mysterious as Web usage data is today. But with the passage of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and later amendments, consumers now have the opportunity to see what their banks and creditors are saying about them, who requested what information about them, how often, and when.