September 01, 2011, 11:31 AM — A class action lawsuit filed in Seattle yesterday charges that Microsoft intentionally designed the software that runs cameras in Windows Phone 7 smartphones to collect and report location data even when the customer has specifically asked that it not do so.
Lawyers who put the lawsuit together and collected customers for the class action did so after revelation in a lawsuit filed in April that Apple's iPhones collected location data even when no apps on the phone were using that data, then stored the data unencrypted for as long as a year.
The suit, filed in Seattle District Court charges that Microsoft set its OS to "siphon geographic location information from users and transmit their specific whereabouts to Microsoft's servers."
The specific example it cites is the Windows Phone Camera app, which asks users when first launched whether they would like it to track location data that can be added to their photos.
Even when the customer chooses "no," the app "brazenly" continues to collect location data, according to the suit, filed by Seattle attorney Rebecca Cousineau, who hired security analyst Samy Kamkar to test a Samsung phone running Windows Phone 7.
A statement from Kamkar in the suit claims the Camera software begins collecting location data even before asking permission.
The phone intermittently transmits data from both wifi and cell networks to a server at Microsoft that tracks the user's location, according to his report that accompanied the lawsuit.
He concluded that "the Windows Mobile operating system is clearly sending information that can lead to accurate location information of the mobile device regardless of whether the user allowed the Camera application to share location information or not."
If the camera app is the only one on the phone that tracks location data without permission, it's possible to see it as an inconsistency in adherence to configuration and common-practice rules for the Microsoft and OEM apps that run on the phone.
Still a problem, but not necessarily one worthy of federal prosecution.
Cousineau expands the charge, however, citing a Congressional investigation in May following the location-data scandal about the iPhone and a letter Microsoft sent testifying that it only collects location data at the request of customers and stops when they ask it to.