Perhaps it’s a good sign for Microsoft: people are taking Windows Phone 7 seriously enough to demand answers as to Microsoft’s policies for location-tracking on smartphones running its software.
With all the hubbub over the discovery that the iPhone records its location history in a file on the phone, other mobile companies have come under scrutiny regarding how, when, and where they store location data needed to operate location-based services like mapping or navigation. In response to inquiries from CNET and others, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) confirmed that it does collect certain types of data from Windows Phone 7 users, such as information about Wi-Fi access points in range of a Windows Phone 7 device, but that it doesn’t store the data on the phone and only stores it for a limited (although unspecified) amount of time.
This appears similar to what Google (NSDQ: GOOG) does with Android location services. PC Magazine reached out to other mobile companies, including RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) and HP (NYSE: HPQ), but hadn’t received responses regarding their policies.
Few people are probably surprised that mobile companies which provide location services to handsets need to collect location-related information to provide those services. But those companies do themselves no favors by being obtuse about exactly what they are collecting and exactly how they are storing, even if it’s all benign. For example, Android users who want to use Wi-Fi hotspots for triangulation in cities where GPS isn’t always reliable are helping Google improve its database of those hotspots by sending data about new or updated hotspots within range of their phones. If you don’t want to help Google, you have to turn off the Wi-Fi-triangulation option in the settings (it’s also presented as a choice the first time an Android phone is configured).