Microsoft Sued Over Windows Phone 7 Location Tracking

Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) is the target of a new lawsuit alleging the company tracked Windows Phone 7 device users without their consent. The suit, filed in Seattle district court Wednesday on behalf of plaintiff Rebecca Cousineau, contends Microsoft is building a targeted, location-based advertising system, requiring the company to map the whereabouts of cell towers, wireless routers, computers and mobile phones -- according to the suit, Microsoft opted to collect this data via WP7 users instead of taking a more expensive and arduous approach.

"Microsoft's scheme is executed through its camera application, which comes standard with a mobile device running the Windows Phone OS," the complaint states, alleging that Microsoft asks the user for permission to access their location data when the camera app is first opened but then collects information whether or not the consumer has consented. "Microsoft surreptitiously forces even unwilling users into its non-stop geo-tracking program in the interest of developing its digital marketing grid."

The suit cites a recent report by security researcher Samy Kamkar that includes analysis of mobile data packets sent by a Windows Phone 7-powered Samsung Omnia 7. Kamkar states the phone "begins sending location information while the location sharing dialog is open before the user has a chance to allow or disallow the sharing of this location information." Kamkar also reports the presence of four distinct tracking numbers: ApplicationID (associated with an app); two unique device identifiers, ClientGuid and DeviceID; and TrackingID, which identifies each packet.

The Microsoft suit follows months after British researchers reported that Apple's (NAS: AAPL) iPhone and iPod devices had recorded location and time-stamp data since the mid-2010 release of the iOS 4 software update, effectively creating a comprehensive log of all user movement and activities during that time. Apple later explained that iOS devices are gathering location information to maintain a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in the user's vicinity.

Fallout from the controversy ultimately led to Apple and archrival Google (NAS: GOOG) appearing before the U.S. Senate to defend their mobile device location tracking policies, but lawmakers expressed skepticism over whether the companies are adequately protecting user privacy. Two bills introduced in mid-June in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate -- the Location Privacy Protection Act and Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act -- propose new restrictions on how both government agencies and private firms can collect and implement user location data, mandating that Apple, Google and their software developer partners obtain express consent from smartphone and tablet users before sharing information with third parties.

In a letter sent to Congress in May, around the time Apple and Google appeared before the Senate, Microsoft stated it "does not collect information to determine the approximate location of a device unless a user has expressly allowed an application to collect location information." InformationWeek reports Microsoft declined to comment on the new lawsuit.

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