Windows Phone Collects Location Data, Too

    April 27, 2011

With all the hubbub surrounding the recent discovery of the iPhone’s location data collection protocols, other mobile phone developers are falling on this geo-data sword as well. First, Android admitted its phone practiced similar data collection, and now, Microsoft has joined the fray, admitting the Windows Phone 7 also collects location data from its users.

Microsoft admitted these details at the official page for the Windows Phone devices, along with steps for turning this option off. There’s been no word, however, if that actually works, or, after selecting the option to turn location data off, the device continues to collect data, just like the iPhone does.

Much like other devices that collect location data, the Windows phones use cell towers and Wi-Fi access points to determine a phone’s location, and according to their post, the collection is done once an application requests the location of the device accessing the program. Furthermore, Microsoft is adamant that their collection efforts do not include private data sent over non-protected wireless networks, which is a risk in and of itself (the use of non-protected networks, not the private data collection):

Microsoft engineered and tested the software to make sure that it only observes the information publicly broadcast by Wi-Fi access points to identify access points to devices. The software does not collect any packets transmitted over encrypted or non-encrypted networks and does not attempt to connect to any open networks. This means that any private data you have transmitted over your Wi-Fi network (for example, email or other data you may have sent) is not detectable by the location service software.

Microsoft also states they do not collect emails or passwords transmitted over these same open networks, and that they do not share the collected information with other mobile operators; although, one wonders what benefits Microsoft would receive if they did. As for turning off their location data collection tools, the post has step-by-step details to do so:

To turn off location services for all applications, do the following:

1. From Start, flick left to the App list, and then tap Settings.

2. Tap Location, and then turn off Location services.

According to The Enquirer, users need to turn off location collection in both the Search and Location areas, and while Microsoft includes an image of location collection being turned off in the Search function, they don’t explicitly say users need to do so.

In fact, the post says location data can be turned off by either “withdrawing consent and turning off location services for that particular application,” which features the search function image and by “turning off access to location services for all applications on the phone.”

Say what you will about the ubiquitous Microsoft, but you have to respect their approach to dealing with this subject, but hey, at least Apple finally responded.