Microsoft's Live.com Web Map Services Exposes Phone, PC Locations Database Info

After Apple and Google, now it is the turn of Microsoft, the Redmond software gaint is now accused of "collecting the locations of millions of laptops, cell phones, and other Wi-Fi devices around the world and makes them available on its own online web map services without taking the privacy precautions that competitors have," CNET […]

After Apple and Google, now it is the turn of Microsoft, the Redmond software gaint is now accused of "collecting the locations of millions of laptops, cell phones, and other Wi-Fi devices around the world and makes them available on its own online web map services without taking the privacy precautions that competitors have," CNET report.


Examples of HTC device locations that CNET extracted from Microsoft's Live.com location database. (Credit: Declan McCullagh/CNET)

According to CNET report, "Microsoft collects the database through crowdsourced data gathering from Windows Mobile 7 devices and through what it calls "managed driving" by Street View-like vehicles that record Wi-Fi signals accessible from public roads. Not only does Microsoft collect, the vast database is available through its Live.com web site that publishes the precise geographical location, which can point to a street address and sometimes even a corner of a building, of Android phones, Apple devices, and other Wi-Fi enabled gadgets."

The software gaint claims it uses the location info for "search results, weather, movie times, maps and directions based on a device's current location."

"Microsoft's database extends beyond U.S. locations. A CNET test of a range of Wi-Fi addresses used by HTC devices showed that Live.com returned locations linked to street addresses in Leon, Spain; Westminster, London; a suburb of Tokyo, Japan; and Cologne, Germany."

"Some Wi-Fi addresses appeared to change positions, meaning the Live.com database--located at http://inference.location.live.com--could be used to track the movements of a handheld device. In addition, some Wi-Fi addresses were added or deleted to the database over the period of a few days," CNET reported.

Google has taken multiple privacy steps that Microsoft hasn't, including using geolocation to filter requests (to find out where a wireless device is, you already have to know it's approximate location to about one city block). Another is that the search company's database does not appear to include the Wi-Fi addresses of Android devices acting as wireless hotspots.

Here's how it works: iPhone and Android devices automatically change their Wi-Fi MAC address when acting as an access point. Android devices appear to choose a MAC address beginning with 02:1A.

Google's database doesn't include the MAC address 02:1A:11:F2:12:FF. But Microsoft's does, and reports that it's located in the Embassy of Montenegro on New Hampshire Avenue in Washington, D.C.

A Microsoft representative pointed CNET to a list of Web pages, including one describing how geolocation works in Internet Explorer 9 and another discusses Windows Phone 7 and geolocation. Microsoft does not appear to provide an opt-out mechanism that would allow someone to remove their Wi-Fi address from the Live.com database.

[Via: CNet]