Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 tells Ballmer where you are

Desperate to prove that Apple is not the only fruitcake which spies on its users, Cnet thinks that it has found proof that Microsoft does the same thing.

Apparently the Windows Phone 7 transmits to a miniature data dump including a unique device ID, details about nearby Wi-Fi networks, and the phone’s GPS-derived exact latitude and longitude, directly to Vole HQ.

Well, Cnet claims this, but a Volish spokesperson could not confirm it. Nor could the SpokesVole say how long the location histories are stored and how frequently the phone’s coordinates are transmitted over the Internet.

Microsoft could confirm that location histories are not saved directly on the device, which is much different from Apple’s practice of recording the locations of visible mobile towers on iPhone and iPad devices. Google only records the last few dozen locations on Android phones.

Also unlike Apple, Microsoft has been fairly clear about what its device does.

According to the “Help and How-To” section of the Windows Phone site, Microsoft has a database with the “location of certain mobile cell towers and Wi-Fi access points” so a mobile device can determine its location more quickly, and with less battery drain, than if only GPS was used.

So when Cnet says that Windows Phone 7 sends data, to Vole it is not really saving tracking details in an easy to access package. The user transmits their data to a server which gives them the data for the region.

Microsoft says that in the case of Windows Phone 7, location information is transmitted to its servers only if Wi-Fi and location services are turned on. It also points out it offers a global switch to turn off all location-based services. Which would kill the GPS functions.

Vole said that the MAC address of the Wi-Fi access point, signal strength, a randomly generated unique device ID retained for an unspecified limited period of time, and, if GPS is turned on, the location and direction and speed of travel. But it only happens when the user asks the server for information.

Apple has admitted that the data is stored on the phone for up to a year and “intermittently” collected and “transmitted to Apple” every 12 hours. It has not said what it does with the information.