Microsoft announced today to stop tracking millions of phones, laptops and other devices that are using Wi-Fi connections. Many people complained months ago that privacy issues were not taken seriously when Google was reported as keeping track of internet connections while taking photos for Google Maps. Microsoft made this announcement a couple of days after CNET reported privacy issues with the database. The Live.com database is getting an overhaul after people were concerned over privacy when the company made the database available. The database was built by Windows Phone 7 and from vehicles they drove around collecting Wi-Fi signals they accessed from the roads.
The information released from the Live.com database showed estimated locations of these wireless devices. A researcher at Stanford Security Lab noticed that access to the database was not available on Saturday morning only one day after he noticed it working just fine. Microsoft claims to dump the “on the go” information and only focuses on wireless connections of devices that are in a fixed location. The researcher created a program based on what was known about Google’s collected information and it was able to track the locations of various devices. Since the report was published, Google stopped the tracking and the researcher was forced to stop tracking.
Researching other places that use geolocation, Microsoft Internet Explorer was found to use the W3C geolocation API and uses Live Location API as well. This made tracking locations available again, with a single MAC address, and as many queries as the program wanted to make. A program manager for the Windows Phone Engineering Team, Reid Kuhn, said, “If a user chooses to use their smartphone or mobile device as a Wi-Fi access point, their MAC address may also be included as a part of our service. However, since mobile devices typically move from one place to another they are not helpful in providing location, once we determine that a device is not in a fixed location we remove it from our list of active MAC addresses.”
Companies like Google and Apple got some pretty good heat about tracking issues in recent months. Websites like Facebook also face questions about privacy lately, and that shows that people are aware of what is happening with their information, especially location, and how they would much rather keep it private than a published report on the internet for all to see.