Microsoft hit with lawsuit for illegal phone-tracking

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Microsoft has found itself facing a potentially disastrous lawsuit in which it is charged that smartphones running Windows 7 have been illegally tracking user locations.

The suit alleges that in a bid to collect information for its location based advertising services, Microsoft chose to use Windows Phones to collect the data. It further alleges that Microsoft did so in disregard of people refusing consent for the process.

“Microsoft consciously designed its OS [mobile operating system] to siphon geographic location information from users and transmit their specific whereabouts to Microsoft’s servers,” the complainant’s lawyers said in court papers filed in Microsoft’s home state of Washington.

The papers also go on to explain that the phone–tracking is done through the phone’s camera application.

The first time a Windows 7 phone user opens the pre-installed camera application a box pops up asking for permission to automatically tag images with the device’s location saying, “This information also helps us provide you with improved location services”. A user can then decide to either “allow” or “cancel” this option.

According to the court papers, however, even when users opted not to participate in the service, the phone continued to track their location. “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,” the complaint states.

The suit claims that as a result of this, the software giant violated the US Stored Communications and Electronic Communications Privacy acts and unjustly enriched itself. Furthermore, lawyers are seeking to widen the scope of the suit and make it a class-action lawsuit representing every user of Windows 7 smartphones. This would allow them to claim what could be an astronomical figure in cash-damages.

Earlier this year, Apple faced similar allegations. Despite vehemently denying location tracking, Apple along with Google were called before a US Senate hearing on the matter. Apple was also successfully sued for the location-tracking controversy in South Korea.

Though Microsoft was not called to appear, it sent a letter to Congress, which may now prove to be problematic, stating, “At Microsoft, we believe that consumers should have control over the location information they share.” The nine-page document went on to definitively state, “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”.

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