Microsoft Faces Tracking Lawsuit
Written by Faith Anderson on September 2, 2011
Microsoft Allegedly Uses Camera App to Track Users’ Locations
The complaint against Microsoft states, “Microsoft’s scheme is executed through its camera application, which comes standard with a mobile device running the Window Phone OS.” The plaintiff alleges that, although Microsoft asks users for permission to use their locations the first time the camera app is opened, it ultimately ignores the user’s choice, collecting location data regardless of whether or not the user has consented. The class action lawsuit comes only weeks after Microsoft claimed to have improved its location filtering, preventing phones and laptops from returning exact locations. This software update was initiated following a report by Stanford security researcher Elie Bursztein, which alleged that Windows devices stored Wi-Fi data that pinpointed people’s past locations. Every Wi-Fi device has a unique ID called a “MAC address,” which the previous Microsoft software could easily track.
Microsoft Claims it Doesn’t Track Without User Consent
Microsoft sent a letter to Congress this past May, a month after Apple faced similar allegations regarding collecting tracking data, stating, “Microsoft does not collect information to determine the approximate location of a device unless a user has expressly allowed an application to collect information.” The recent litigation against the company argues that “Microsoft’s representations were false,” because the Windows Phone 7 OS transmits data, including latitude and longitude, when users activate its camera application, even if users do not consent.
Apple’s trouble earlier this year was for recording the locations of iPhones and iPads in an unencrypted file on the device, which discreetly logged more than a year’s worth of unencrypted data even when people disabled location software. Google’s Android devices also collect tracking data, but records only the most recent locations. The plaintiff submitted a report that presents an analysis of mobile data packets sent by a Windows Phone. According to the report, the Windows Phone used in test not only transmitted information regardless of the user’s response to the “Allow the camera to use your location?” prompt, but actually begins “sending location information while the location sharing dialogue box is open, before the user has a chance to allow or disallow the sharing of this location information.”
Mobile Industry Faces Concerns about Location Tracking
According to Microsoft, only user-allowed applications collect location data from its phones; the company claims that the applications don’t store data on the phone itself, so it can’t be hacked or synced back to the company. Location tracking has sparked heated debates amongst U.S. lawmakers, who have launched investigations into how mobile devices collect personal data without permission. Many application developers create apps that collect user data, including location, phone numbers and email, which they sell to advertising networks who use the data to target consumers with certain products or services. However, without advertising revenue, app developers may begin to charge more for their software programs, forcing customers to choose between privacy and cost. This class action lawsuit against Microsoft is likely only the beginning of possible legal scrutiny and potential crackdowns on how wireless businesses use consumers’ personal information for their own benefit.