Microsoft sued for alleged smartphone tracking


by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News & staff

Posted on September 1, 2011 at 7:59 AM

Updated Friday, Sep 2 at 11:23 AM

(Updated Friday with Microsoft response added)

SEATTLE -- A federal class action lawsuit claims Microsoft tracks the location of its mobile customers even after users request the tracking software be turned off.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle Wednesday, said Microsoft deliberately designed camera software on it Windows Phone 7 operating system to ignore customer requests that they not be tracked.

"We hired one of the best experts in the country... to test this phone out," said Chicago attorney Jay Edelson. "What he uncovered was, even when you hit cancel and say you don't want to be tracked, Microsoft is still tracking."

The suit claims Microsoft transmits location data whenever the camera app is activated.

Microsoft does have an extensive mobile privacy statement that says it may collect data to improve its own services, though it promises not to identify or contact people with that data.

Microsoft released this statement Friday:

“Microsoft is investigating the claims raised in the complaint.  We take consumer privacy issues very seriously.  Our objective was -- and remains -- to provide consumers with control over whether and how data used to determine the location of their devices are used, and we designed the Windows Phone operating system with this in mind. 

"Because we do not store unique identifiers with any data transmitted to our location service database by the Windows Phone camera or any other application, the data captured and stored on our location database cannot be correlated to a specific device or user. Any transmission of location data by the Windows Phone camera would not enable Microsoft to identify an individual or “track” his or her movements.”

Many Windows phone users tell KING-5 they don't mind the GPS tracking, whether it's geotagging in pictures or anywhere else, as long as they know it's happening.

"I'm one of those people who check in [to locations on Facebook]," said Anthony Baliola, who works in downtown Seattle, "but you know, it's my choice, because I know that's going to happen."

The lawsuit claims the phone transmits data including latitude and longitude coordinates, an identification code unique to the device, and locations of the closest cell towers and wi-fi networks.

"It's actually kind of scary," Baliola said. "I think everybody should be notified if they're doing such things."

Edelson said companies like Microsoft have not just a legal obligation, but a moral one, to spell out their data collection policies.

"We do believe they have a financial incentive to collect as much information as possible, because they're using that for advertising purposes," he said.

Edelson's firm has filed dozens of class-action lawsuits against tech companies, including earlier this year, when Apple also was accused of tracking iPhone user locations even when the software was turned off. Apple issued a patch to fix it.

Named as a plaintiff in the suit is Rebecca Cousineau, of Michigan.