Microsoft Details Device Location Sharing Services

With the recent uproar about other mobile devices tracking locations of users without the user being aware, Microsoft has clarified their device location services. At the request of the U.S. House of Representatives, Microsoft submitted a nine page response of information on how they handle device location services. The U.S. House of Representatives contacted several mobile device companies after it was discovered that some Apple devices were logging user information in a hidden file. Of course, being that this file was hidden, users of these devices (specifically the iPhone and iPad 3G) never knew their location and even time and date information were being tracked. Researchers discovered the files just this April 2011, and you can imagine Apple users did not react so lightly. Apple admitted they had been doing this for a while since version 4.0 of their OS and have recently disabled it with a new update.

Due to this recent Apple incident, lawmakers and the U.S. government have involved themselves, hence Microsoft’s response after being requested information. Microsoft’s mobile chief Andy Lees clarifies that the new Windows Phone devices have always allowed the user full control of location based information being accessed. Every single application and every single instance has some type of notification that device tracking will be enabled, at which point the user may always choose to accept or deny the information access.

You can read the full Microsoft nine page response in PDF  here or an online embedded version here. Read on to find the “principles” provided in the response. After the principles, the rest of the nine pages involve a Q&A-style list of information. It’s impressive the amount of information Microsoft provides in this matter, as it should be that way.

[…]Therefore, Microsoft designed the location based services on Windows Phone 7 with the following principles in mind:
1. User Choice and Control.
Microsoft does not collect information to determine theapproximate location of a device unless a user has expressly allowed an application to collect location information. Users that have allowed an application to accesslocation data always have the option to access to location at an application level orthey can disable location collection altogether for all applications by disabling the location service feature on their phone.
2. Observing Location Only When the User Needs It.
Microsoft only collects information to help determine a phone’s approximate location if (a) the user hasallowed an application to access and use location data, and (b) that applicationactually requests the location data. If an application does not request location,Microsoft will not collect location data.
3. Collecting Information About Landmarks, Not About Users.
Microsoft’s collection of location data is focused squarely on finding landmarks that help determine a phone’s location more quickly and effectively. In our case, the landmarks we use are nearby WiFi access points and cell towers. The information we collect and store helps us determine where those landmarks are, not where device users are located. In fact, we’ve recently taken specific steps to eliminate the use and storage of unique device identifiers by our location service when collecting information about these landmarks. Without a unique identifier, or some other significant change to our operating system or practices, we cannot track an individual device.
4. Transparency About Microsoft’s Practices.
Microsoft gives consumersopportunities to learn more about its location data collection practices. When theuser makes a decision to allow an application to access and use location data,Microsoft provides a link to the Windows Phone Privacy Statement, which includes its own section on location services with information describing the data WindowsPhone 7 collects or stores to determine location, how that data is used, and how consumers can enable or disable location-based features. Additionally, at the time Windows Phone 7 launched last November, Microsoft published a consumer-friendly Q&A in the “Help and How-To” section of its Windows Phone website to address commonly-asked questions about location services and consumer privacy. This Q&A provides detailed information on how location services work for Windows Phone 7, the data Microsoft collects to provide location services, and step-by-step instructions (as well as diagrams) on how to enable and disable location services on Windows Phone 7 and the methods Microsoft uses to assemble and maintain its location database. Prior to launch of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft proactively engaged with various government and consumer organizations to start constructivedialogues regarding our location data collection and use practices.

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