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05 July 2011, 16:41

Microsoft releases Wi-Fi data collection source code

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Microsoft has published "relevant portions" of the source code from its Wi-Fi data collection software so that the public can examine it for any privacy concerns. According to Reid Kuhn, Partner Group Program Manager for Microsoft's Windows Phone Engineering Team, this was done to "provide even more transparency" about how the company gathers information through "managed driving", in which Microsoft uses vehicles equipped with mobile phones to gather available data about Wi-Fi access points and cell tower locations.

The managed driving data collection software is used to provide data for a number of location-based services, including services for Windows Phone 7 and Bing. In a post on Microsoft TechNet Blogs, Kuhn says that "the mobile phones we use for these surveys are only capable of observing the same data points about Wi-Fi access points that any phone, computer or other device connecting to Wi-Fi access points can observe."

The resulting information is later used to provide better search results, weather, movie times, maps and directions, based on a device's current location. Kuhn specifically notes that, while it does collect and upload GPS, Wi-Fi and cell data, it "does not intercept wireless data transmissions from consumers’ computers", adding that it "neither observes nor records any information that may contain user content transmitted over a network".

The source code release follows recent privacy concerns related to companies such as Google and Apple collecting information about stationary Wi-Fi base stations. In addition to the network's name (SSID), Google, for example, stores a base station's unique MAC address, as well as information about notebooks and smartphones that are acting as Wi-Fi routers. In May, Apple updated its iOS mobile operating system to address concerns over tracking the location of the device.

The source code for Microsoft's managed driving data collection software, developed by the Windows Phone Engineering team, is hosted on the company's MSDN web site and is not released under an open source licence.


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