Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

Summary: Microsoft attracts a lawsuit over locations-based information being sent back to its servers by the camera app.

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Microsoft has been hit with a lawsuit which claims that the Windows Phone 7 operating system tracks its users without their permission.

The lawsuit, filed at the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, revolves around how the camera app works, and claims that the app sends location-based information (approximate latitude and longitude information) back to Microsoft even when users had opted out of data sharing.

1. Microsoft intentionally tracks the movements of its users' mobile devices in direct contravention of their privacy settings and the law. While Microsoft claims that users may opt-out of its location-tracking program, Microsoft has designed its mobile operating software to track its users locations deceptively even after they affirmatively deny such consent. As discussed more fully herein, Microsoft effectuates this scheme through its popular mobile operating system ("OS"), Windows Phone 7 ("Windows Phone"), which is used by a variety of manufacturers of mobile devices, such as HTC, Samsung, and LG. Regardless of the device model, Microsoft consciously designed its OS to siphon geographic location information from users and transmit their specific whereabouts to Microsoft's server

5. Users clicking "cancel" explicitly deny Microsoft access to their geolocations. Unfortunately for its users, however, Microsoft brazenly continues to collect users' location information, regardless of whether or not the individual chooses "cancel" so as to not allow such information to be tracked. Thus, Microsoft surreptitiously forces even unwilling users into its non-stop geo-tracking program in the interest of developing its digital marketing grid.

This is happening despite Microsoft telling Congress that no data would be collected without user consent:

19. In April of 2011, leaders of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce sent letters to a number of developers of mobile device operating systems, including Microsoft, requesting information about how their software was designed to track and store users' locations. In its response to Congress's inquiry, Microsoft unequivocally stated that the Windows Phone OS never collects geolocation data without the express consent of its users.

The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Rebecca Cousineau, a Windows Phone 7 user, and seeks "injunction and punitive damages, among other remedies."

Microsoft has so far declined to comment on the matter.

Complaint here [PDF].

Topics: Microsoft, Legal, Mobility

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23 comments
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  • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

    Well, isn?t that a fine kettle of fish? I wonder how many of those that flamed Apple will come out and flame Microsoft? I expect the usual fanboys to defend Microsoft. But in reality for all the crap Apple took over storing information on the phone, most people overlook the fact that Microsoft and Android phones were collecting data and sending it to remote servers.
    Rick_Kl
    • No one should be flaming or defending anyone based on one sides accusation

      in the absence of facts. Nowhere in the article did it substantiate the claims being made. That said if they are true then yes. bad form MS. And if it isnt the result of an unintentional bug then shame on them too. Me I'm waiting for the facts first.
      Johnny Vegas
      • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

        @Johnny Vegas Read my reply to Gisabun. Microsoft tracking Windows phone users is not new, but it makes better headline to go single out Apple these days ;)
        Rick_Kl
      • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

        @Johnny Vegas

        I would think if it were an unintentional bug at least one person would notice a growing database on MS's servers. Wouldn't they? Or, does this hardware just sit in a locked room totally unattended except for the occassional spider seeking it's next meal? While I don't have all the facts either, my cynical mind leads me to believe someone at MS was totally aware of the situation and giggling at Apple and Android for having been busted.
        WayneC369
  • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

    I don't doubt it. MS is desperate to profit from targeted advertising and improved search results through bing to offset declining windows sales (and facing a bleak future in mobile) and will resort to anything at this point. But, I will reserve judgment until the facts are revealed.
    deathjazz
    • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

      @willyampz

      Oh really? When to you plan on beginning your reservation of judgement?
      whatagenda
  • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

    "Microsoft effectuates this scheme through its popular mobile operating system (?OS?), Windows Phone 7 (?Windows Phone?), which is used by a variety of manufacturers of mobile devices, such as HTC, Samsung, and LG." - You know this case is bogus based simply on the preceding statement.
    chipbeef
    • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

      @chipbeef I remember reading something about it while Apple was getting flamed over storing information on the phones. Microsoft (and to a lesser extent Android) sends location data to a remote server, for an unspecified time period. But everyone was too busy being outraged at Apple to notice.
      Rick_Kl
      • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

        @Rick_Kl : Funny how I don't remember that. Since you believe the story existed [and assuming to be true], where is the link?
        Gisabun
      • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

        @Gisabun While it is not the original article I read, note the date on it: April 26, 2011 7:00 PM. While Apple was getting flamed for keeping a database of local towers on the phone, Microsoft was storing location data on Microsoft servers. Here is the quote <b>Now, CNET's Declan McCullagh has reported that "Windows Phone 7, supported by manufacturers including Dell, HTC, LG, Nokia, and Samsung, transmits to Microsoft a miniature data dump including a unique device ID, details about nearby Wi-Fi networks, and the phone's GPS-derived exact latitude and longitude.</b> So it is not something new, just someone figured out that even if you turn it off, it still sends the data to Microsoft.<br><br><a href="http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/got_windows_phone_7_microsofts_tracking_you_too.php" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/got_windows_phone_7_microsofts_tracking_you_too.php</a>

        Here is another one form roughly the same time period.
        <b>Speaking to CNET, Microsoft also said that a unique, per-device ID was transmitted along with the requests. Though there are benign uses of such an ID?and in fact, services like "Find My Phone" depend on it?the risk is that it will be stored long-term, allowing both Microsoft and law-enforcement to track movements of Windows Phone users.</b>

        http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2011/04/windows-phone-7-no-on-device-location-tracking-online-another-matter.ars
        Rick_Kl
  • Heroic struggle on behalf of little people

    Microsoft has money. Lawyers want money. Lawyers try to take Microsoft's money. You now know all you need to know about this.
    Robert Hahn
  • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

    Everything spies and steals information today. A solution to GPS based spying is to open the phone and disconnect the GPS antenna. unfortunately, triangulation with cellphone towers provides the backup to your efforts to be free. I suspect that turning off the phone, in the future, will still leave it in a state where part of it wakes up and collects data. Battery removal when the device is not being used may be an action for those who want to be sure. next - how many devices have non-removable batteries? low level infowar on a huge scale. There is nothing like a good old fashioned SPST switch.
    opcom
    • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

      @opcom - You can't remove the battery from an iPhone... :)
      PollyProteus
      • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

        @PollyProteus Tell me what Microsoft tracking mobile phone users has to do with the battery in the iPhone? Unless youre trying to redirect, the topic to an Anti-Apple rant.
        Rick_Kl
    • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

      @opcom <br><br>A Faraday shielded phone case or bag would work nicely but then you wouldn't be able to receive calls... Really the only way is to appeal to our law makers that we should not have to give up our liberty or right to privacy in order to benefit from technology.

      @Rick_Kl Are you dense? This thread is specifically regarding measures to prevent data collection. Removing the battery would work for anything but an Iphone... unless you are really paranoid and suspect that the phone may have a capacitance circuit and/or RFID that could allow it to transmit data without the battery... Grab your tin foils hats!
      techadmin.cc@...
      • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

        @techadmin.cc@? Apparently I am not as dense as you perceive. Being that Apple does not send geo location data off to a remote server, without consent. The Windows Phone fanboys were all over Apple keeping a database on the phone, while Microsoft keeps the database on their own server. These very same Windows Phone fanboys complained about Google harvesting the end users information. Yet here we have evidence that Microsoft is claiming one thing and doing just the opposite. Microsoft recently entered into the search market, and low and behold they are data mining the endusers of their products.
        Rick_Kl
  • Camera?

    Is saying use of the camera can't capture your location to geotag the pics the same as disabling the phone's other geolocation functions - wouldn't you need to disable all of the different geolocation options before you could say MS was tracking you in contravention of your choices - not just the on the camera?

    If the OS is still sending geo data after disabling it everywhere - then bad on MS - needs to be fixed

    As with Apple though - unless they've done something to damage the individuals, how exactly do you arrive at more than an order to repair - certainly no recuperative award since there's been no material harm - even on a "punitive" award front it seems a bit shakey since you need to show some harm even then - just more parasitic attornies turning mole hills into mountains to make a buck for themselves
    archangel9999
    • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

      @archangel9999 Being the data is sent to a central server, the thought of stalking comes to mind. Up until the first week of August 2011, you could log into Windows live and enter the MAC address of a Windows phone and get its location.
      Rick_Kl
  • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

    Reading comprehension is critical to understanding. The prompt isn't asking "is it okay if we collect data", the prompt is asking "is it okay if the CAMERA uses collected location (aka GPS) data in the storing of photos". Two entirely different issues. <br><br>The collected data that shows usage patterns and such is not specific to camera operation, it's a system level setting. Internally to Microsoft it's called "squim" (SQM) data. It's official title is the "Microsoft Customer Experience Improvement Program".<br><br>For this particular prompt, if no GPS location data is stored in the photo when you take it, then Microsoft is doing the right thing. <br><br>There is a "however" to account for though: If you're automatically uploading the photos to some cloud service (skydrive for example), there is another, separate, setting that says "keep location info for uploaded pictures" and that's tied to the automatic uploading option.<br><br>To check your settings go to the WP7 "Settings" page, scroll right to Applications and click "pictures + camera". See the options for "Include location (GPS) info in picture you take" and "keep location info on uploaded pictures"? If the second one is set to "ON", *or* if the "Find my phone" setting for "save my location perodically for better mapping" is set to "ON", *or* the "feedback" option is set to "ON", then Microsoft is doing what you told it to do. You need to note that none of the three "however" settings have anything to do with the camera software storing GPS data in the photos, which is the original complaint, and this so called "lawsuit" is based on nothing more than hot air, conjecture and a definite lack of knowledge.<br><br>Full disclosure, I have a WP7 device and clicked the "cancel" option and *none* of the photos I've taken with it have GPS data embedded in them. And I take lots with my WP7 device. <br><br>Like I said, reading comprehension is critical to understanding.
    PollyProteus
    • RE: Microsoft hit with mobile tracking lawsuit

      @PollyProteus Again what part did you miss? [Users clicking ?cancel? explicitly deny Microsoft access to their geolocations. Unfortunately for its users, however, Microsoft brazenly continues to collect users? location information, regardless of whether or not the individual chooses ?cancel? so as to not allow such information to be tracked.] I believe that a security researcher verified this was the case. Quite simply put Microsoft offers the option to not send data, but collects it no matter what the end users says.
      Rick_Kl