Microsoft accused of tracking mobile users without permission

1 Sep 2011

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system is the latest mobile platform to be accused of collecting location data of mobile users without permission.

In April Apple’s iPhone was at the heart of a storm of controversy after researchers discovered Apple had been storing the user’s location on 3G-enabled iPhones and iPads running iOS 4 in a hidden database within their devices.

The database contained latitude-longitude co-ordinates of where the user has been, along with a time stamp for each location. The file also appeared on any computer these mobile devices sync up to and was unencrypted. The revelations sparked a number of lawsuits, especially in South Korea.

It is understood that now Microsoft is in the same unenviable position of explaining why its Windows Phone 7-powered devices are tracking users without their permission.

According to a lawsuit filed today in Seattle, it is alleged the operating system tracks user without their permission. The lawsuit alleges that the camera application on all Windows Phone 7 handsets tracks and transmits data to Microsoft – even if the handset owner opted out of sharing.

The lawsuit – filed on behalf of a Windows Phone 7 user – describes as false a statement that Microsoft made to the US Congress that it would only collect location data with the owner’s permission.

The plaintiff is seeking an injunction and punitive damages.

According to CNET, a security researcher focusing on geolocation issues called Samy Kamkar claims that the camera application on Windows Phone devices sends the device’s location – complete with latitude and longitude, a unique ID, and nearby Wi-Fi access points – to Microsoft.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years