Microsoft locks down geolocation database

Microsoft has restricted access to its Wi-Fi-powered geolocation service after insecurity expert Elie Bursztein raised privacy concerns about the information which is being stored.

Bursztein was checking to see if it was possible to track a laptop by snuffling the Wi-Fi data stored by Windows whenever it connects to an access point. The only way he could do this was by getting access to Microsoft’s MAC Address Database.

Vole has decided that it will restrict access to its data base to prevent people doing this in the future.

According to Ars Technica, the move follows the actions of Google which had a similar privacy complaint.

Microsoft, Google, and Skyhook operate Wi-Fi geolocation databases which are designed to provide quick location information to phones, tablets, and laptop computers.

Google’s database was discovered to be full not only of access point MAC addresses but also laptop and smartphone addresses which could be tracked.

Google changed its service to restrict access so that it required two nearby MAC addresses to be entered instead of just one. This made it impossible to query a particular phone’s MAC address to find out where the person was.

The downside of all this is that if you want an approximate location when only one access point is visible. Microsoft isn’t going to give you one.

It seems that Google and Redmond have decided that it is better to give users privacy than convenience, this time.