Microsoft warns of privacy concerns with location-based services

By Tom Warren, on 27th Jan 11 1:43 pm with 2 Comments

Microsoft issued new consumer awareness research on Wednesday to co-incide with Data Privacy Date on Friday January 28.

The research (PowerPoint Slides), based on a survey of 1,500 people from the U.S., UK, Canada, Japan and Germany, aims to raise awareness and provide better guidance to help consumers manage their privacy online. Microsoft’s research focuses on location based services such as Bing/Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook Places, Foursquare and Gowalla. Microsoft says that 6 in 10 people are aware of location-based services (LBS). 51% report using LBS and 94$ say they were either very valuable (41%) or somewhat valuable (53%).

Consumer concerns over privacy run high for location sharing and even higher for sharing with business. 52% of respondents express strong concern with sharing their location with other people or organizations. Microsoft has created a set of recommendations for customers concerned over their privacy whilst using location-based services:

  • Pay Close Attention to the settings that use your location
  • Be aware of the location privacy settings on your phone, social networking sites, and the applications you use.
  • Don’t geo-tag photos of your house or your children. In fact, think about disabling geo-tagging until you specifically need it.
  • Limit who knows your location
  • For many people, social networking sites link everything together. Limit who you add to your social network location services, and choose not to make your location data publicly available or searchable.
  • Only trusted friends should know your location. If you have contacts you don’t fully know or trust, it’s time to do a purge.
  • When using location services, check in thoughtfully
  • Think about your safety if you check in when you’re alone.
  • Don’t “check in” on location based social networking sites from home, or a friends house, or anywhere you might put others at risk.
  • Make sure you don’t include GPS coordinates in your tweets, blogs or social networking accounts.

Brendon Lynch, Microsoft’s chief privacy officer, says Microsoft is leading by example on data privacy. Highlighting the company’s own products, Lynch says Microsoft uses a “Privacy By Design” approach. “Take Kinect. On the surface, the Xbox 360 game sensor might introduce new privacy issues – it recognizes faces, it measures body types, it takes photos. But the product team worked diligently to make sure none of the biometric information stored by Kinect will leave the home, and users must explicitly opt-in if they want to share their photos,” Lynch said.

Microsoft plans to highlight the work of its privacy professionals on Data Privacy Day, Friday. “The stakes are high,” Lynch said. “It’s core to Microsoft’s business success that we adequately manage and protect the security and privacy of personal information.” Microsoft is also hosting a panel discussion with the Churchill Club in San Francisco, where key industry and consumer groups, academics and public policy organizations will explore the privacy implications of the new technologies.

Microsoft is expected to issue its Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate (RC) build tomorrow. The RC will include Microsoft’s recently announced Tracking protection. The technology is a new feature in Internet Explorer 9 that will allow consumers to address their concerns about being tracked on the web. Internet Explorer 9 will offer users a new opt-in mechanism to identify and block many forms of undesired tracking such as cookies, web beacons, advertisements and trackers. Tracking protection will involve lists that can be published online. Tracking protection will work by allowing users to create lists of sites that are protected from being tracked by other sites via cookies and other means. Microsoft expects technical users to create lists initially followed by consumers once Internet Explorer 9 is generally available.

Microsoft's Location-based services report

  • Joel

    Always wondered how secure all this location tracking really is…

  • themetal

    The research is a little misleading in my opinion. I understand that things like weather alerts and traffic updates are LBS, but when you lump that in with things like check-ins and geo-tagging, you’re artificially inflating what people perceive as value in LBS.

    LBS services like check-ins and geo-tagging present far greater risk to a person’s privacy versus weather alerts because check-ins and geo-tagging are designed to be publicly (to some degree) available whereas the service that uses my location for weather alerts doesn’t transmit that information outside its network.