Phone Home or when an application sends data back to mothership
Phoning home is the act of sending data from an application to its mothership. For example when WordPress sends your hosting server PHP version to wordpress.org.
Recently on the Piwigo project, we checked new versions of the technical components we rely on, such as jQuery or Smarty. Smarty 3.0 is available and P@t has started to work on it. Unfortunately, he realized that the minimum requirements was PHP 5.2. Unfortunately we (folks at Piwigo.org) have no idea about how many Piwigo installations are running on PHP prior to 5.2. Then came the idea to anonymously send PHP/MySQL versions to piwigo.org when a Piwigo fetches the list of available plugins on piwigo.org. The coding part is simple, just a few additional POST parameters.
To make things perfectly transparent for Piwigo team and Piwigo community, I opened a topic on the forum automatic survey on PHP/MySQL versions, no evil and I admit I was not expecting the reactions. I don’t say that I don’t like to meet opposition, because this is the way we can build something better, I was just not expecting the reactions. Even if we only send anonymously technical details about hosting (PHP/MySQL version), and not things like user email or gallery URL, some of us did not feel comfortable with that. And I consider that if a few Piwigo team members don’t feel comfortable with that, then it may be badly seen by people outside Piwigo team as well! Because we couldn’t agree on the right way to do it, and because this is only a tiny feature with no added value for the user, I’ve decided to remove this feature under preparation.
Just to compare:
- WordPress sends the blog URL, the current theme, the language, the PHP version, the MySQL version, the WordPress version to wordpress.org. Read more on WordPress Phone Home & Privacy (and you can’t deactivate that with just a configuration setting)
- Apache, by default, when you reach a 404 not found page, shows the Apache version, the SVN version, the PHP version, the Python version (depending on Apache modules you installed). OK it is not Phoning Home, but Apache offers this information to anybody.
I don’t blame WordPress (or Apache) at all. I think it’s interesting to know what is done on one of the best known opensource web applications. If WordPress could make its PHP/MySQL statistics public, then Piwigo wouldn’t need to create its own phoning home feature!