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. ”