Microsoft Sued Over Alleged Phone Tracking

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft is being sued over claims that it collects data about users of Windows Phone 7 handsets. The law suit says such collection happens even when the user has switched off the tracking tool.

Rebecca Cousineau has filed the suit in Seattle, Microsoft's home city, and is seeking class action status. If granted, which is by no means guaranteed, any other Windows Phone 7 users in the same position could join the case and automatically receive damages if the case is won.

Four Tracking Numbers to Identify Phone, User

According to the lawsuit, analysis of the data sent by a Samsung Omnia 7, running the latest Windows mobile operating system (OS), uses four separate tracking numbers to identify the handset.

The analysis says that the tracking data was sent regardless of how the user responded to a dialog box asking for permission for the phone's camera to track the handset's location. It also says that the handset was already transmitting location data before that question was even asked. (Source:

The location data is said to include the latitude and longitude -- information gathered by GPS (global positioning system) -- along with details of nearby wireless networks.

Cousineau is seeking damages but has not named a price. She's also seeking a court order that bans Microsoft from gathering the location data once a user has asked it to stop. At the time of writing, Microsoft had declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Congressional Claims Brought Into Question

If the claims are true, Microsoft could face problems outside the courtroom. Earlier this year, it explicitly told Congress that no location data is collected unless and until the user has given express permission.

Though Microsoft will certainly have violated its own claims if the lawsuit's allegations prove correct, there aren't necessarily any sinister motives at play. One theory is that the location gathering is designed to help Microsoft build up a database of public WiFi points and their locations.

It's suggested that the database of WiFi points could then be used as a back-up tool for providing location-based services, such as mapping and local search, if a user is in an area where cellphone reception is too poor to give an accurate location just by referring to nearby relay towers. (Source:

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