A few weeks back, I wrote about my Windows Secrets co-author Rafael Rivera and his attempts to find out what's behind the widely-reported claims made in a recent lawsuit against Microsoft for its supposed tracking of user locations via Windows Phone. At the time, Rafael found the claim to be lacking with no real proof that Microsoft was tracking phone locations. But he said he'd look into this issue more closely once BUILD came and went.
Well, BUILD came and went. And Rafael has indeed done more testing to determine whether Microsoft is tracking the location of Windows Phone handsets without users' consent. And somewhat surprisingly, he has found that the claims are at least partially correct. That is, Windows Phone does transmit location data to Microsoft servers before the user gives consent for that activity.
"[Data is sent from Windows Phone to] agps.location.live.net and to Microsoft's Location Inference (codenamed Orion) service hosted at inference.location.live.net," he writes. "Items transmitted include (but aren't limited to) OS version, device information, [nearby] wireless access points, and various GUID-based identifiers ... This behavior appears to contradict Microsoft's earlier statements to the U.S. House of Representatives."
Now, I'd point out to conspiracy theorists that sending data does not equate to storing data. Indeed, Rafael notes as much in his post. "The question is whether the Microsoft servers in question are in fact collecting data about the phone or simply returning this information with no storage abilities," he adds. "Only Microsoft can tell us what they're doing with this information."
And why they're doing it, especially given the strenuous denials they've provided so far.
Regardless, I think the lack of proof around the storing of data gives Microsoft an out. Assuming of course they're not as evil as some believe. As always, a little transparency would go a long way here.