This week the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to Apple, Google, HP, Microsoft (MSFT), Nokia and RIM requesting more information about how their mobile devices use and store users’ location data. The Senate is going to address the privacy concerns in a hearing set for May 10, 2011.
The issues started last week when it was revealed that Google and Apple are tracking users’ locations. After reports began to surface that Microsoft Windows Phone 7 operating system is also collecting users’ location data, Microsoft has admitted that Windows Phone 7 does track users’ locations.
Microsoft emphasized that users can choose to turn off the location tracking system. You can completely shut off Windows Phone 7’s location services. Tap Start, flick left and select Settings. Under Location, you can disable Location services either individually by app or with a global shutdown.
According to CNET, while Apple has been storing this location data on iOS devices and users’ computers, Windows Phone 7 devices send this information and GPS system data (if available), tied to a unique device ID, back to Microsoft. Microsoft revealed that it collects data such as the BSSID, which is the MAC address of the device, the signal strength, the radio type, and if GPS tracking is available it also logs latitude, longitude, direction and speed.
According to the Microsoft website: Microsoft’s location determination system uses a combination of available GPS, Wi-Fi access points, and cell towers to offer location services in the most efficient and effective manner. To provide location services, Microsoft assembles and maintains a database that records the location of certain mobile cell towers and Wi-Fi access points.
These data points are used to calculate and provide an approximate location of the user’s device by comparing the Wi-Fi access points and cell towers that a user’s device can detect to the location database, which contains correlations of known Wi-Fi access points and cell towers to observed latitudes and longitudes.