While Apple has been catching much of the flak for collecting iPhone and iPad user location data without consent, it turns out that rival Microsoft may have been quietly up to the same. A recent class action lawsuit filed in Seattle district court alleges that Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system collects users’ location data, even after offering users the chance to opt out.
That Microsoft can work with location data is itself no big secret, but what makes this case so egregious is that users are apparently given a choice, and are then summarily ignored.
The offending bit of code rests in Windows Phone 7’s camera application. When fired up for the first time, WP7’s camera app asks users if they want to allow the device to use their location. No matter what option is actually selected, the device begins to collect the data anyway. Much of the poking around was done by Samy Kamkar, who was able to determine that not only was location and identifier data being transmitted, it started even before users had the chance to make their decisions on-screen.
Kamkar’s packet analysis, pictured above, shows what information is being transmitted: the device’s model number (in this case a Samsung Omnia 7), device ID number, time and date information, and longitude and latitude readings.
The lawsuit claims that Microsoft’s actions were part of a plan to create a location-aware marketing system which would generate ads based on the device’s physical location. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but it seems like an awfully large risk for Microsoft to take for something so mundane.
In a similar situation, Apple was successfully sued for the same offense, albeit in a slightly different jurisdiction. Ironically, after Locationgate first started making headlines, Microsoft sent a letter to Congress stating among other things that Windows Phone 7 will not store any location data unless a user has “expressly allowed an application to collect” it. Microsoft has yet to release an official statement, but it’s probably because they’re busy dusting themselves off after falling off of their high horse.