Microsoft is facing a lawsuit for allegedly tracking its mobile customers’ locations without permission, as concerns continue to mount over wireless privacy issues.
A class action lawsuit, filed Wednesday in a Seattle federal court on behalf of a Windows Phone 7 user, claims Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 OS has camera software that ignores customers’ requests not to be tracked.
The lawsuit says Microsoft sent Congress a letter earlier this year insisting it only collects location data with users’ consent. Instead, the litigation claims, “Microsoft’s representations were false,” because the Windows Phone 7 OS transmits data, including latitude and longitude, when users activate its camera app.
The class action suit comes just a few weeks after the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant said it improved location filtering, so its phones and laptops no longer return exact locations.
Microsoft’s software update followed a report from Stanford security researcher Elie Bursztein, who alleged Windows devices stored Wi-Fi data that pinpointed peoples’ past locations. Every Wi-Fi device has a unique ID, called a “MAC address,” which the previous software could easily track.
Microsoft’s data collection policies differ from Apple’s and Android’s methods. Apple came under fire earlier this year for recording the locations of iPhones and iPads in an unencrypted file on the device, which quietly logged more than a year’s worth of unencrypted data even when people disabled location software. Google’s Android devices collect tracking data, but records only the last few dozen locations.
Microsoft, on the other hand, says only user-allowed apps collect location data from its phones, and adds the apps don’t store data on the phone itself, so it can’t be hacked or synced back to the company.
But while location tracking is under fire from U.S. lawmakers, who have been investigating how mobile devices collect personal data without permission, location tracking will likely continue in phones and their apps.
Many app developers are small businesses with fewer than 10 employees. Their apps collect user data, including location, e-mail and phone numbers, which they sell to advertising networks who use the data to target their products.
Without advertising revenue, app developers may have to charge more for their software programs, and customers may need to decide whether privacy or less-expensive apps are more important. It may also mean further legal scrutiny and potential crackdowns on how wireless businesses use customers’ personal information is in store for the mobile industry.