Over the past couple of days, users have noticed that the Palm Pre has begun a systematic process of updating all Pre devices to webOS 1.0.2. Palm claims that this is necessary, due to the tight integration between webOS and Palm’s cloud computing servers. However, such moves may put Palm into legal trouble… or worse.
Palm’s Pre will automatically update itself, even if you reject an update, seven days after it was detected. The device must have at least 30% battery power, and either an EV-DO signal, or a Wi-Fi signal present.
The nightmare scenario is, of course, a user wanting to call 911, finding that the (forced) update somehow has failed. The Palm Pre can’t call 911 as a bricked phone, and no firmware update is 100% successful. Users have already encountered bricked Pre units, resulting in the release of the Pre restoration kit. That kit, in turn, has unleashed a homebrew scene already… enabling users to hack their phones to run standard Linux software.
The FCC has clear protocols on a device’s ability to dial 911, at all times… unless the consumer chooses to bypass the ability (such as, by explicitly enabling a device to update itself). We presume, though cannot confirm at this time, that the FCC was not aware of the Palm Pre’s forced software update ability.
A wrongful death lawsuit can bring a company to its knees. Palm is opening itself up to such harm, should someone ever be found injured, harmed, or dead, with a bricked Pre in their hands. While the chances of that happening are rare, it only takes one. An even more fearful scenario, is a malformed update bricking many Pre units at once, though this is less likely due to the delay that the Pre makes before forcing an update on consumers.
At this time, we would like to give Palm an opportunity to respond, but we are prepared to approach the FCC with this matter, including arming Pre owners with the tools to easily file an FCC complaint.
Verizon Wireless late last year stopped all forced FOTA updates on their devices, after PhoneNews.com publicly detailed the dangers, risks, and safety hazards of forced firmware updates. Microsoft also faced legal settlements after triggering automatic, forced updates on the original Xbox console. The Xbox 360 now does allow users to opt-out of pushed updates.