It seems that just about every platform out there has been hit with location and privacy concerns. First, it was Apple and its iOS platform for the iPhone and iPad. Users were shocked to discover that the iPhone and iPad 3G took detailed location information and stored the data within the iOS devices, then transferred the information over to a computer when it was synced via iTunes. Soon after, we learned that Android had become a target as well. Users were suing Google for privacy and location concerns as well.
This time around, Microsoft has responded to privacy and location information concerns regarding Windows Phone 7 raised by the U.S. government. It was a lengthy 9-page response where Microsoft mobile chief Andy Lees says “that consumers should have control over the location information they share, and that the information collected should be narrowly tailored to support specific experiences on Windows Phone 7 devices.”
According to Microsoft, Windows Phone 7 was designed with the following principles in mind:
1. User Choice and Control. Microsoft does not collect information to determine the approximate location of a device unless a user has expressly allowed an application to collect location information. Users that have allowed an application to access location data always have the option to disable access to location data at an application level, or they can disable location collection altogether for all applications by disabling the location service feature on their phone.
2. Observing Location Only When the User Needs It. Microsoft only collects information to help determine a phone’s approximate location if (a) the user has allowed an application to access and use location data, and (b) that application actually requests the location data. If an application does not request location, Microsoft will not collect location data.
3. Collecting Information About Landmarks, Not About Users. Microsoft’s collection of location data is focused squarely on finding landmarks that help determine a phone’s location more quickly and effectively. In our case, the landmarks we use are nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers. The information we collect and store helps us determine where those landmarks are, not where device users are located. In fact, we’ve recently taken specific steps to eliminate the use and storage of unique device identifiers by our location service when collecting information about these landmarks. Without a unique identifier or some other significant change to our operating system or practices, we cannot track an individual device.
4. Transparency About Microsoft’s Practices. Microsoft gives consumers opportunities to learn more about its location data collection practices. When the user makes a decision to allow an application to access and use location data, Microsoft provides a link to the Windows Phone Privacy Statement, which includes its own section on location services with information describing the data Windows Phone 7 collects or stores to determine location, how that data is used and how consumers can enable or disable location-based features. Additionally, at the time that Windows Phone 7 launched last November, Microsoft published a consumer-friendly Q&A in the “Help and How-To” section of its Windows Phone website to address commonly-asked questions about location services and consumer privacy. This Q&A provides detailed information on how location services work for Windows Phone 7, the data Microsoft collects to provide location services, and step-by-step instructions (as well as diagrams) on how to enable and disable location services on Windows Phone 7, and the methods Microsoft uses to assemble and maintain its location database. Prior to launch of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft proactively engaged with various government and consumer organizations to start constructive dialogues regarding our location data collection and use practices.
Based on those statements, if true, Microsoft paints itself as a less-intrusive data collector than Google or Apple. If you’d like to see the full response, see the link below.