Microsoft in court for tracking phone users

Windows Phone 7 users allegedly can't escape Microsoft's handset tracking
Kerry Butters

September 2, 2011
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A complaint was lodged against Microsoft on Wednesday which alleges that the company is tracking mobile phone users without their permission.

The lawsuit claims that owners of Windows Phone 7 smartphones are being tracked via the camera on their phones even after location software is disabled. According to the suit, Microsoft transmits coordinates of a customer’s location without their knowledge and this continues even when users have opted out of the scheme.

In May, Microsoft told US Congress that “collection is always with the express consent of the user and the goal of our collection is never to track where a specific device has been or is going.”

“We believe that, when designed, deployed and managed responsibly, the location-based feature of a mobile operating system should function as a tool for the user and the applications he or she elects to use, and not as a means to generate a database of sensitive information that can enable a party to surreptitiously ‘track’ a user.”

The complaint, which was filed in Seattle, claims this is exactly what MS does, alleging that the company ignores the user’s choice when location services are switched off.

The complaint states: “Microsoft brazenly continues to collect users’ location information, regardless of whether or not the individual chooses ‘cancel’ so as to not allow such information to be tracked.”

“Still, Microsoft publicly maintains that it only collects geo-location data ‘with the express consent of the user.'”

Of course this will all sound familiar to followers of Apple matters. In the spring, the Cupertino company denied tracking iPhone owners via a hidden file and said that it was simply collating a database of Wi-Fi hotspots.

A bug in the software was blamed for the large amount of information that was contained in the database - with location records stretching back a year or so - but the bug has since been patched up.

Evidence submitted in the case against MS points to the fact that data begins being transmitted as soon as the permissions dialogue box is opened. It then continues sending the data even after the user has declined permission.

This furore is hardly likely to help Microsoft’s struggling mobile OS as it attempts to spark new interest this autumn with the release of the Mango flavour of WP7 on Nokia and other smartphones.


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