SOFTWARE OUTFIT Microsoft has admitted that Windows Phone 7 (WP7) tracks users' locations.
With concern growing over revelations that all of the major mobile operating systems, including Apple's IOS, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, collect location data, Microsoft has released an FAQ about the issue.
Microsoft revealed that it collects data such as the BSSID, which is the MAC address of the device, the signal strength, the radio type, and if GPS is available it also logs latitude, longitude, direction and speed.
However, the company said it does not collect information sent over private, non-protected wireless networks, otherwise known as payload data. It said that its software specifically only picks up publicly broadcast data from WiFi access points and that packets sent over encrypted or unencrypted networks remain safe from its location tracking.
It also reassured customers that it does not collect emails, passwords or similar information from open networks, a mistake Google made with its Streetview cars, and that it is not intending to map unencrypted WiFi networks. It also does not monitor devices connected to access points, nor the SSID name of an access point, which could reveal the identiy of the user since many people name their networks with personal information.
For the information it does collect, Microsoft said that it does not share the data with mobile operators.
Microsoft also stressed that users can turn off this location tracking feature. Both location services and WiFi access are needed for Microsoft to collect location information, but this can be easily switched off in WP7 settings. Users need to do so in both the Search and Location areas.
Many of these questions are likely to be similar to those asked by US lawmakers recently as they probe Microsoft and a number of other companies about their location tracking policies. The fact that Microsoft is publishing the information for all to see might go down well with investigators, as the company apparently is tackling the problem head on. µ