Microsoft moved to explain how and when its Windows Phone devices collect location data, even as Apple moved to squash chatter about iOS location-tracking.
wrestled with controversy over iOS devices storing location data, Microsoft
moved to offer its own explanation for when and how its Windows Phone devices
collect information on a user's physical location.
allow an application or game to access your device's location, the application
or game will connect to Microsoft's location services and request the
approximate location of the device," reads the FAQ
posted on Microsoft's corporate Website. "The
location service will respond by providing the application or game with the
location coordinates of the user's device (when available), which the
application or game can then use to enrich the user experience."
location services apparently rely on a database of local cell towers and known
WiFi access points to "provide an approximate location of the user's device."
(Microsoft insists the "managed driving" it uses to collect information about
WiFi access points will not take any emails or passwords transmitted by those
hotspots.) Users can also deny applications access to their location
that use your location are required to provide the ability to turn off that
application's access to your location," reads another part of the FAQ. "And you
can always turn off access for all applications by turning off location
In addition to
WiFi access points, Microsoft's location services can leverage a device's GPS
to provide observed longitude, latitude, direction and speed.
Microsoft's location services "will only collect information when you allow a
particular application to request location information and that particular
application requests location information." While Microsoft apparently creates
a randomly generated ID to identify mobile devices sending information to its
location services, the FAQ makes no mention of whether such transmissions are
encrypted in transit. Microsoft also claims the location information "is not
shared with mobile operators."
don't seem to store the user's location data on the smartphone itself, a marked
departure from iOS or Google Android.
Both Apple and
Google are under additional government pressure to reveal how they collect and
store location data, after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked to meet
with executives from both companies to discuss privacy issues. Apple is also
facing inquiries from U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.),
who fired off letters to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for greater clarification
on news that the iPhone and 3G-enabled iPad running iOS 4 have been saving
location data to a hidden database file.
Alasdair Allan wrote about iOS 4's supposed location-sniffing abilities in an
April 20 posting on the O'Reilly Radar blog
. Working with co-researcher
Pete Warden, he released an open-source iPhone Tracker application that can
plot stored location data on a map.
of your locations is stored on your iPhone as well as in any of the automatic
backups that are made when you sync it with iTunes," Allan wrote as part of a
FAQ about removing the data. "One thing that will help is choosing encrypted
backups, since that will prevent other users or programs on your machine from
viewing the data, but there will still be a copy on your device."
saved by iOS 4 apparently includes information gleaned from cell towers and the
names of WiFi access points, and not actual GPS data from a tablet or
smartphone. Other recent news reports have suggested that smartphones running
Android are transmitting location data to Google.
In a FAQ
posted on its corporate Website, Apple attempted to clarify its position on
"The iPhone is
not logging your location," reads one section. "Rather, it's maintaining a
database of WiFi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of
which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help
your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested."
Apple goes on
to insist that the iPhone only stores a protected subset of that total
crowd-sourced database. "The location data that researchers are seeing on the
iPhone is not the past or present location of the iPhone, but rather the
locations of WiFi hotspots and cell towers surrounding the iPhone's location,"
reads the FAQ, "which can be more than one hundred miles away from the iPhone."
apparently plans to stop backing up this cache "soon," courtesy of a future