Don’t Worry Your Data Is Safe – Why HP Doesn’t Have Your Back

When Dante in HP tech support, during a online live chat, told me repeatedly that my PIM data, which is everything I ever put on my succession of Palm personal digital assistants, was safely backed up on Palm/ HP’s servers I began to worry. PIM is short for personal information manager.

Because I have years of movie dialogue stored in my head the word safe can sometimes sound menacing when it is generally meant to be reassuring . Think of the 1976 film, Marathon Man, in which Lawrence Oliver probes into an exposed nerve in Dustin Hoffman’s tooth with a dentist’s tool asking repeatedly and insistently “is it safe?”

This brings me to the strange (as in a Sherlock Holmes mystery) case of HP AKA Palm/HP Web OS and the true meaning of “support.” The really big question is what does support entail? What are HP’s obligations to me, my device and my data?

What you need to know is that you, or I , can no longer read or access PIM data unless we have a WebOS enabled device to read it. Unlike previous Palm devices the data is no longer backed up to your desktop.

Rodney, another rep in chat tech support, provided me with his version of safe and then added a bit more. “The PIM data which is on the phone will be backed up to the Palm server. That information will be restored only on WebOS devices. You can purchase any of the WebOS devices so that you can restore the data on to it.”

My Palm Pre Plus appears to be comatose and out of warranty so I have no WebOS device that can read my data. The terms of service called the Palm Terms of Service which, I neglected to read, covers any and all contingencies to the benefit of Palm but says nothing that really matters as far as how I’m going to get my data back and the harsh truth gets worse.

Palm reserves the right, at its sole discretion and at any time, to add, remove, or modify any Services. Backup and restore, remote diagnostics, and any other Services offered under these Terms are each offered by Palm subject to your acceptance of these Terms…

I’ve garnered from these terms and all my chats with tech support that HP is only responsible for the physical well-being of my phone based on the terms of the manufacturers original warranty and that my data is “safe” only because Rodney or Dante or a supervisor says so.

Still I’m not reassured.

Putting aside the fact that to gain access to what I regard as mine–I’m confident that HP would say they have done nothing to take that away from me–what do I do now? Quickly buy a new HP-enabled device all of which are being discontinued except the Vierra?

Some personal history so you can better feel my pain. Before the recent demise of the PrePlus or Pre 2 or 3 there were warning signs that I chose to ignore. (I take full responsibility

Handspring Visor PDA

for my actions.) HP decided to stop supporting the Palm Desktop emulator software made by Motion Apps which I relied on to keep my personal 10-year timeline in order. Subsequently HP decided to stop supporting the Palm PrePlus. I knew it was over, but still I believed that HP would not abandon and alienate me from buying any of their products ever again.

But they have.

I have been a loyal supporter of Palm since Handspring Visor days. Handspring was started in 1998 after Palm founders Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky left 3Com.

Palm Centro to PC via Cradle

Loyalty to a brand or a company means little these days except for Apple owners. (I’m aware of the kerfuffle regarding Final Cut Pro X’s backwards compatibility problems, but Apple worshipers will get over it because Apple can do no wrong.) But when I find something that works I tend to stick to it, besides I had data going back more than 10 years. I had system for keeping track of appointments and contacts that synched via a cradle and didn’t rely on the cloud.

The cloud is now being sold as an easier, more convenient backup data method for the consumer, but really may be more convenient and more profitable for the provider. The value to the consumer of relying on a proprietary data backup service should go beyond personal assurances.

There are a number of questions that need to be asked and answered no only by HP, but the industry at large. What responsibilities does HP have to Palm Pre, Palm Pre Plus, Palm 2 and 3 owners other than to keep their phones in working order for “X” years? “X” equals the extent of the warranty. And is “working order” enough when your data becomes inaccessible because the data encryption is proprietary, the only device to read the data doesn’t work anymore, and hardware is no longer being produced as is the case with my Palm Pre Plus.

I can’t fathom how any technology company expects consumers to continue to buy their future products when their definition of support is limited to one operating system and maybe only a specific version of that system that is tied only to a specific product. I’m not a technophobe. I appreciate that to allow for innovation there has to be an end to a product’s useable life, but one-year and 49 days? My definition of when a device and the software that runs it falls into the “legacy” would certainly be longer, say 3 years at a minimum.

Support should go beyond physical repair of a non-responsive (found this term in a Microsoft warranty) piece of hardware. Surely support should include the drivers, a small file that that enables the computer to talk to internal and external devices and the underlying operating system. There should also be as in the case of data, a work around that includes an export function to an accepted, non-proprietary data base.

My story, and maybe yours as well, is about your data and my data. Derek of HP tech support wrote, the access scheme is proprietary to keep it safe (read unhackable).

Dante, not to be confused with Derek, did offer some hope suggesting that there may come a time in the future when the HP OS is incorporated into a new device that will allow me to access my safely stored data.

Marvelous. (Said with the same intonation as Clint Eastwood.)

Until then I suppose I must take it as act of faith that my data is safe.

Epilogue

I anticipate I’m going to do a little research on “applicable law.” This phrase was used repeatedly frequently in the Palm Terms of Service. Maybe I’ll start at the Complaint Assistance Unit of the Division of Consumer Services of the California Department of Consumer Affairs as the agreement reads that THESE TERMS WILL BE GOVERNED BY THE LAWS OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, AND BY THE FEDERAL LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, EXCLUDING THEIR CONFLICT OF LAWS PROVISIONS.”

If I turn up anything that doesn’t require legal interpretation I will include the results in a subsequent post.

Regarding Comments - I welcome comments, but I reserve the right to delete postings that are verbally offensive to me or anybody else. You can comment without attacking anyone personally. I have no problem with anyone criticizing my ideas or writings, but request you try to substantiate your views if you do. If I misspell a name or get a fact wrong, correct me and I'll revise the copy. My staff of fact-checkers is always on vacation or taking a break.

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