Microsoft identifies privacy bugs in Windows Phone location services, promises update fix

By Tom Warren, on 28th Sep 11 11:57 pm with 7 Comments

Windows Phone 7 camera location notification

Microsoft admitted on Wednesday that the company has identified an “unintended behavior” in its Windows Phone 7 location services.

Microsoft has been accused of tracking Windows Phone locations without explicit end user consent over the past few weeks. A lawsuit was filed in a Seattle federal court earlier this month, backed by analysis from a well known security researcher. Windows Phone 7 sends user location info to Microsoft’s inference.location.live.net even if a user says “no” when prompted by the mobile operating system’s camera application. The behavior was confirmed by Rafael Rivera, famous for his work on jailbreaking Windows Phone 7. Rivera originally revealed that packets of data were sent to Microsoft’s location services before a user selected an accept button in Windows Phone 7 to communicate its location. Rivera also discovered that Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5 update resolves the specific camera issue.

Microsoft issued a statement on Wednesday to admit the issues with its Windows Phone 7 location services. “We have completed our investigation into the Windows Phone’s location service and the unintended sending of Wi-Fi access point and cell tower information,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. The software giant also updated its privacy pages with an important notification:

“We have identified an unintended behavior in the Windows Phone 7 software that results in information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers being periodically sent to Microsoft when using the Camera application, and, for phones that are configured for US-English, when using the phone’s voice command features (such as “Find Pizza”). For the Camera, the software bug results in the behavior even where you have disabled geo-tagging photos in the Camera application.

The Windows Phone 7.5 update eliminates this unintended behavior by the Camera application and voice command feature. After the update, information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers will be sent when using the Camera application only if you have agreed to tag your photos with location. For voice commands, location information will no longer be requested and information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers will not be sent to Microsoft when using voice commands.”

Microsoft also revealed that Windows Phone 7.5 suffers from a location services bug too. “We also have identified that the Windows Phone 7.5 update contains an unintended behavior when using the “Me” feature in the People Hub,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. Wi-Fi access points and cell tower information is sent to the Windows Phone location service each time a user accesses the “Me” feature in Windows Phone 7.5:

“This behavior is unintended and will be eliminated as part of the next scheduled update to Windows Phone 7.5. After that update, information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers will be sent only if you have agreed to allow the “Check In” function of the “Me” feature to access and use location information.

You will receive a notice on your phone when software updates are available, and you can always disable all access to location information by applications and collection of location information by the Windows Phone location service at any time by going to Settings > Location and toggling the location switch to OFF. ”

  • http://twitter.com/LachlanCMcLeod Lachlan C McLeod

    To be honest I dont really care if microsoft gets bits of information on my locations.. I like giving companies feedback on where i live and travel so that they know where their customers are and where to expand features..

    I can understand being concerned when you have geotagging enabled but it seems people are so scared about “big brother” for the last few years its getting ridiculous to the point that it is hindering innovation..

    I think people have to realize that as time goes on you will be followed because that is where the technology is headed.. soon you will have GPS in your watch, car, phone, laptop, tablet..  if you dont want this sort of stuff to happen then dont get a phone that can give you directions by telling you where you are.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t see how it prohibits innovation to give people the option to keep private information… private.

    • J A

      I fully get your point but I believe people should have the simple choice to opt in and out of these things. I personally don’t want to share my location with anyone but some others want exactly the opposite, so it makes sense to let each person make their own choice.

  • BigChiefSmokem

    In the 90s Microsoft would never admit, let alone do anything about something like this. Glad things have changed over there.

    • Anonymous

      So true, though I think most technology companies have improved in this area since the 90′s. Between Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, I actually trust Microsoft the most out of all of these companies.

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  • Anonymous

    This just sucks.  Can’t I get a cellphone that won’t track me without my permission?  I hated when Apple did it and it’s just as bad when MS is doing it. I’m just glad there is a way to turn it off completely, but I would still like to turn it on for some apps.  My question is, how long are we going to have to wait for the fix?