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Microsoft open sources code to calm WiFi snooping fears

Allays fears by revealing application code
Mon Jul 04 2011, 12:27

PROPRIETARY SOFTWARE DEVELOPER Microsoft has taken the unusual step of open sourcing code that it uses to collect WiFi access point data in a bid to calm privacy fears.

Microsoft, like Apple and Google, collects WiFi access point data in order to provide location aware services. However both Apple and Google got into hot water after the practice became widesly known and Microsoft hopes that by providing the source code of the data collection application it uses, the public will view the practice with less suspicion.

Although Microsoft hasn't released the full source code for its data collection application, the firm said, "The source code demonstrates both the type and amount of data we collect when surveying Wi-Fi access points through managed driving." Microsoft claims that it uses standard mobile phones to acquire the data and these devices are "only capable of observing the same data points about Wi-Fi access points that any phone, computer or other device connecting to WiFi access points can observe".

Google got into trouble over the collection of WiFi 'payload' data, which Microsoft claimed its software does not intercept, saying, "The software neither observes nor records any information that may contain user content transmitted over a network."

It's interesting that Microsoft has decided to open source code in a bid to make its data collection procedures appear more transparent, perhaps realising that its word was not good enough to satisfy a skeptical public. It is also a vindication of open source software as a way of reassuring users about what is going on underneath a user interface.

One wonders whether Microsoft will use this policy in the future with its other products in order to paint itself as a company that is sensitive to privacy concerns. µ


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