Microsoft collects wireless location info for online map service

Microsoft is now accused of collecting location info from millions of WiFi enabled devices and smartphones for its own online web map services. News.com reports that Microsoft collects the location info from Windows Phone 7 smartphones and by detecting WiFi signals from other devices via cars. Not only does Microsoft collect the data but it also also publishes the database via its Live.com web site. Microsoft claims it uses the location info for "search results, weather, movie times, maps and directions based on a device's current location."

Microsoft's location sniffing is similar to what Google does for its Street View feature in Google Maps, which was reported on earlier this month. Unlike Microsoft, Google has now taken steps to limit who can access their location database. So far Microsoft has not yet commented on this location gathering activity for its maps features or if it will take similar steps to make sure that info cannot be accessed by the general public. There also doesn't appear to be any way, at least at the moment, for people to ask that their device not be a part of Microsoft's database.

The issue of companies that create databases with the location of wireless phones and WiFi devices came to a head earlier this year. Back in April, it was revealed that Apple was able to track and store the location of the users of its iPhone and iPad devices. Apple later released a software update that disabled that feature. Since then a number of  lawmakers have tried to make phone makers and wireless carriers more accountable about how info collected from their devices are used.

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29 Comments

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Did anybody see the disclosure on that CNET article. The author is married to a GOOGLE employee. It was a MS bash article trying to make google look good. Whats with these clown "bloggers". Its too bad neowin was so hard up for an article ,they used this crap

this is coming from CNET, the biggest microsoft bashers on the planet. If it wasnt for microsoft there wouldnt even be a CNET. they are trying to spin this and make google look good. what google did was actually record the data packets of peoples internet transmissions. This is totally different and just location info. Really they are crying because of a mac address. What a ****in joke of a site they are

I see Microsoft fans saying: "Not a big news", "So what?", "And..?", etc etc etc. But I remember when Google did this first time, they where like "Omg, they collect my wireless info's", bla bla.
Don't get me wrong, I like Microsoft too, but now I see how you react... it's in human nature.

SubZenit said,
I see Microsoft fans saying: "Not a big news", "So what?", "And..?", etc etc etc. But I remember when Google did this first time, they where like "Omg, they collect my wireless info's", bla bla.
Don't get me wrong, I like Microsoft too, but now I see how you react... it's in human nature.

I understand your point but the problem is that Google do this without consent from the user or without specifying anything. The same happens with Apple.
If you'll use WP7 you'll notice that you are always asked for it first and you can disable that anytime. These are facts you can verify easily.

DaveGreen said,

I understand your point but the problem is that Google do this without consent from the user or without specifying anything. The same happens with Apple.
If you'll use WP7 you'll notice that you are always asked for it first and you can disable that anytime. These are facts you can verify easily.

That's not true. Google Android and Apple iOS ask for your location too.

What a load of crap article.

Windows Phone specifically ASKS YOU when you are going to use the location services if you want this.

You can also turn off location tracking either per application or for the whole phone.

They also specifically state they do not store anything that will personally identify you.

I'm sorry but this article is total stupidness and should be deleted for giving the wrong impression. Microsoft already stated this before and opened up their code. It's no where near as bad as what the competitors are doing.

Really?

If Microsoft collects and publishes only the Wi-Fi addresses of access points, the privacy concerns are lessened. But hundreds of millions of phones and computers are used as access points--tethering is one example, and the feature is built into Apple's OS X operating system--meaning that their locations could be monitored.

Microsoft is using private devices to track Wifi Locations
Microsoft is not using user phones to track anything.
...And this is a still an issue because the way OS X broadcasts its wirelesss adapters as relay WiFi APs?

The real article here is...?

This is public information.
If OS X users are using the duality of their Wifi for AP point SSID broadcasting without security, this is Microsoft's problem how?

Wow, just wow... They are so reaching to try and make this 'seem/sound' like what Apple was doing or what Google was doing. And it is almost the exact opposite of both. It is not like Apple, as they are not tracking the location of Users. It is not like Google because they are not collecting transmitted WiFi Data.

Microsoft already published the code they are/were using for this so that people wouldn't write crazy articles like this... And yet, we get a crazy article like this, and repeated on Neowin.

Did I really miss the Neowin articles on:
• The recent OS X Lion security issues?
• The OS X Lion compatibility issues that breaks a large amount of software due to last minute framework changes by Apple?
• The battery security flaw in Mac Books, that uses the MFR default password, allowing pre-EFI rootkits to be installed on any Mac in range? (Let alone code could be run to make the battery explode)
• The recent Market news showing how Apple and investors artificially adjust the stock prices?

Funny, I could have just missed them, but these were big news even outside of 'tech sites', and I don't remember seeing anything but Windows/Microsoft hit pieces on Neowin.

This is like the big stories from 2009 and 2010 when Linux Routers were being botted, or even the receent Anonymous and Lulz(sp?) attacks that botted around 8000 Linux and other Unix servers to find exploits to take down Visa, Sony, etc... (At least not mentioning how they did it, and how they used the best computing resource 'server class computers' that was the easiest to bot because they were running Linux...)

Yep, almost done with Neowin...

bull****s.
Microsoft, unlike competitors, ask you first when and if collect data and when and if connect to locate your position. The user with Windows Phone is always aware of that.

DaveGreen said,
bull****s.
Microsoft, unlike competitors, ask you first when and if collect data and when and if connect to locate your position. The user with Windows Phone is always aware of that.

Android too second screen or third of the setup... since atleast 2.0 I'm sure it was there too before in 1.6 and 1.5
Apple did not ask any of this I think before 4.0.x

knighthawktfc said,
I thought MS already had said publicly some time ago (when the apple\google stuff was making headlines) that they did this.

Yep they even released and demonstrated the code they were using to show it was not collecting user information or WiFi data.

I don't understand why this is being blown up into a mega issue by people, it seems to just be another reason to bash Apple/MS/Google/whoever. It's a MAC address. If your wireless is unsecured, your problem, but that's not really the issue. I'm happier having accurate location info, and if that means a DB of potential connections being used to triangulate me, fine.

On my (Android) phone, even after a new router (put in place since the Google car went past my house and recorded the details of my old network) it still knows (without GPS) when I'm at home, presumably by the record of my neighbour's wifi around me. And that's cool with me.

It's useful for devices that don't have a GPS chip inside them, my iPod only knows where it is at home because Apple recorded my APs location.

It's also faster than GPS if the information is cached, my Android phone can get a rough location in <1 second if it sees my AP, takes about 10s or so to get a GPS lock.

norseman said,
Big surprise? Microsoft at least opened up their code. They weren't hiding anything. Sensationalist title.
Google too. Apple's the only big one that has yet to show their code

Apple does the same thing, and so do other companies (SkyHook for example), I don't know why this has suddenly surprised people (They've been doing it for years)

The_Decryptor said,
Apple does the same thing, and so do other companies (SkyHook for example), I don't know why this has suddenly surprised people (They've been doing it for years)

+1 nothing new imho...

and I defenitely prefer having accurate search results, than click everytime "Please allow Microsoft to use your location data, which is stored on a server and made public blablabla"...