Not long ago someone discovered that the iPhone was tracking a users by storing landmark locations (Wi-Fi hotspots, cell towers) on the phone. This caused many to believe Apple was actually tracking the user, when in reality Apple was tracking the landmark. Apple used this information to provide the location of the user faster.
Due to the iPhone “issue,” a group of members from the House of Representative sent a letter to numerous companies, requesting more information from those who provide mobile services.
Microsoft decided to make their response public, which can be found here. Microsoft also decided to make a blog post laying out their response to the House of Representatives in their “commitment to consumer privacy in Windows Phone 7.”
At Microsoft, we believe that consumers should have control over the location information they share, and that the information collected should be narrowly tailored to support specific experiences on Windows Phone 7 devices. We believe that our careful and deliberate approach to user privacy in the development of the Windows Phone 7 operating system reflects Microsoft’s commitment to give users informed choices about the collection and use of location information and reflects our intent to facilitate the delivery of device location information solely at the user’s request and solely for the user’s benefit.
We believe that, when designed, deployed and managed responsibly, the location-based features of a mobile operating system should function as a tool for the user and the applications he or she elects to use, and not as a means to generate a database of sensitive information that can enable a party to surreptitiously “track” a user.– Andy Lees, President, Mobile Communications Business, Microsoft
Andy Lees laid out the following principles they had in mind when they designed Windows Phone 7′s location-based services:
User Choice and Control – Microsoft collects no information of where the user is at unless the user has explicitly allowed Windows Phone to do so by allowing the application to retrieve such information. If the user chooses to allow the application to access their location, they can always disable that access at the application level, or “they can disable location collection altogether for all applications by disabling the location service feature on their phone.”
Observing Location Only When the User Needs It – Microsoft will only collect data to approximate the users location if: (1) the user has allowed the application to access their location, and (2) the application requests for the users location.
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.” These landmarks are Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers. The information collected is to locate the landmarks not the user is located. Recently Microsoft stopped storing devices unique identifiers, meaning Microsoft could not find a specific device (and likely the user) even if they wanted to.
Transparency About Microsoft’s Practices – When a user decides to allow an application to gain access to their location, Microsoft provides a link to the Windows Phone Privacy Statement, which details how data is used to determine their location and other collected information. Microsoft also created a page containing commonly asked questions about location services and consumer privacy.
“Throughout the process from development to the store shelves, we seek to provide
a clear understanding of our practices and simple effective tools to help
consumers protect their data. It’s a commitment that we stand by with Windows
Phone 7,” says Lees.