Microsoft publishes Wi-Fi data collection code
'Look at us! We're not Google!'
Microsoft has published code for the software that its roving vehicles use to collect wireless network information. The move is an apparent attempt to make Microsoft look good next to Google.
On Tuesday, the software giant proudly told the world that it had published some of the code used by the Microsoft vehicles that drive around slurping data on Wi-Fi access points and cell-tower locations. This data fuels the location-based services included with Windows Phones and other Microsoft products.
In the past, Google used its fleet of Street View vehicles to collect similar data. But at one point, Google admitted that it had been collecting not only network identifier but Wi-Fi payload data as well, and it no longer collect any Wi-Fi data.
Therein lies the difference, according to Microsoft, which said on Tuesday that its software collects and retains only as much Wi-Fi access point data as is necessary to build its positioning database. "None of data collected is associated with personally identifiable consumer information," Windows Phone engineering team group program manager Reid Kuhn said.
Kuhn called the publication of the code part of Microsoft's "ongoing commitment to consumer privacy" and an "additional step to provide even more transparency about how we gather information through managed driving to provide location-based services."
We'll have to take Microsoft's word for it. The move comes with one major caveat: Microsoft is sharing only what it has determined are "relevant portions" of the source code. Also, you can look, but you can't touch, as the code is under a "custom license" that doesn't allow for much in the way of testing or modification.
But the gesture makes for healthy competitive sport, as it seems Microsoft is now using privacy and openness as one way to give Windows Phone a much-needed leg up against the rival Android mobile operating system from Google.
Last month, Microsoft revealed in a letter to the US Congress that it had stopped identifying specific mobile devices that use its location-tracking services.
Microsoft publicized its change as Google and Apple came under scrutiny from Congress and privacy advocates over the way iPhone and Android devices collect and store location data. ®
an apparent attempt to make Microsoft look good next to Google.
Going to need A LOT more shiny paint.
Woah! Too much self righteous moral indignation
Surely there needs to be a balance between the security of data that can only loosely be defined as 'personal' and the usefulness of such data.
If you broadcast your MAC address then don't complain if others use it to assist in navigation. If you don't want anyone to know switch the bloody wireless access point off!
To pre-emptly defend myself from the "it's my data brigade" I will tell you about the last time data useful for navigation was suppressed. During the war road signs, station signs and other useful labels were removed. The bright idea was to make life difficult for spies. The net result was chaos, as you can well imagine.
Foreign sounding gentleman "Excuse me, what station is this?"
Local person thinks 'bloody hell a whole carriage full of spies!"
Reality - a whole carriage full of French sailors (serving with the Royal Navy) wondering where the hell they are because they have to change trains at Crewe on the way to Liverpool to pick up a ship. (true story - one of the sailors was my dad)
Modern reality. GPS is great but it doesn't work in big cities with big tall buildings - where most of us live. WiFi identification data does work in pinpointing your location with a fair amount of precision.
Still not convinced? - OK so not only should you turn off your WiFi but cover up your street sign and very definitely remove the house number or name from your front door or front gate. That will show them!
Without the complete sources and the ability to run a diff against that in their vehicles, we have only their word for it.
What? Believe the old Evil Empire cum Patent Shark in the middle of a dig at Google? Not likely. Especially with Ballmer in the picture, the only thing I'm inclined to believe has something to do with "developers", apparently.