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Suit: Windows Phones tracking users without consent

In an echo of recent gaffes involving Android and iOS devices keeping tracking users’ locations, a Michigan woman has filed a potential class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle alleging that Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system gathers data from mobile phone users even after they’ve opted out of location-reporting. Moreover, the suit claims that Microsoft lied to Congress about the extent of location information it collects.

The plaintiff, Rebecca Cousineau, alleges that the Windows Phone 7 camera application continues to record and share GPS location information with Microsoft even after a user opts out of granting Microsoft access to their location data. The suit is seeking class action status, although doesn’t make a specific claim for damages.

Microsoft has not responded to the suit, but is expected to fight the charges.

The complaint alleges that, like the out-of-control location logging feature revealed (and fixed) earlier this year in Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, Microsoft is collecting location and network information from Windows Phone devices to create a “digital map” of cell towers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and other information that can be used with assisted GPS technology. The suit maintains Microsoft’s goal with this map is not so much to provide location-based services to consumers, but to create a targeted marketing system that can tailor ads to a user’s specific location.

“Faced with the expensive and laborious task of collecting this information, Microsoft has elected to gather instead the necessary geolocation information through its customers’ mobile devices,” wrote Kim Stephens of the Seattle law firm Tousley Brain Stephens, which is handling the case. “In this way, Microsoft uses its customers as a virtual army of surveyors who constantly gather and transmit the geolocation information.”

Microsoft has asserted both to customers and the U.S. Congress that the company polls for nearby Wi-Fi access points only when a user has specifically permitted an application to access location services, and that application in turn specifically requests location information. In the case of the camera app, the suit alleges Microsoft continues to poll and collect that information even after a user has opted out.

The suit follows on revelations last month that Microsoft was publicly publishing location information on WiFi-connected devices via its live.com location database, potentially enabling any Internet user to determine the location of specific devices.

[Image: David Parry/PA Wire]