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Location and my privacy FAQ

Updated: September 2012

IMPORTANT NOTICE

This notice describes unintended behavior in the Windows Phone 7 software involving location services, explains how Microsoft eliminated that behavior, and reminds you that you can prevent access to location information if you choose to do so.

As described in the Location Positioning section of the Windows Phone 7 Privacy Statement, the location information stored and used by the Windows Phone location positioning database is limited information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers that we use to help provide you with location services more efficiently and effectively. It does not include any information that identifies you or uniquely identifies your device and does not allow Microsoft to track you or your device.

In 2011, we identified an unintended behavior in the Windows Phone 7 software that resulted in information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers being periodically sent to Microsoft when using the Camera application, and, for phones that are configured for US-English, when using the phone's voice command features (such as "Find Pizza"). For the Camera, the software bug resulted in the behavior even where you have disabled geo-tagging photos in the Camera application.

The Windows Phone 7.5 update, made available beginning in September 2011, eliminated this unintended behavior by the Camera application and voice command feature. After installing the update, information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers will be sent when using the Camera application only if you have agreed to tag your photos with location. For voice commands, location information will no longer be requested and information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers will not be sent to Microsoft when using voice commands.

We also identified, however, that the Windows Phone 7.5 update contained an unintended behavior when using the "Me" feature in the People Hub. Each time you access the "Me" feature, information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers is sent to the Windows Phone location service. The information sent, received and stored by the Windows Phone location service when you use the "Me" feature does not identify you or your individual device. Nevertheless, this behavior was unintended and we eliminated it as part of updates to Windows Phone 7.5 made available to carriers and OEMs beginning in early 2012. When the update is installed, information about nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers will be sent only if you agree to allow the "Check In" function of the "Me" feature to access and use location information.

As noted, updated OS versions have been made available to all carriers and OEMs. We urge you to ensure that you have installed the latest version of the Windows Phone 7 software your carrier makes available. We also remind you that you can always disable all access to location information by applications and collection of location information by the Windows Phone location service at any time by going to Settings > Location and toggling the location switch to OFF.

  • Location positioning services can be used by software and online services to find a device's location and enable users to receive more relevant experiences on their device.

  • Location-aware applications, which are applications that use the location positioning services on a Windows Phone, offer a number of benefits. For example, you can find local movie times, weather, or directions to the nearest coffee shop.

  • When you allow an application or game to access your device's location, the application or game will connect to Microsoft's location positioning services and request the approximate location of the device. The location service will respond by providing the application or game with the location coordinates of the user's device (when available), which the application or game can then use to enrich the user experience.

  • To provide location services, Microsoft assembles and maintains a database that records the location of certain mobile cell towers and Wi-Fi access points. These data points are used to calculate and provide an approximate location of the user's device by comparing the Wi-Fi access points and cell towers that a user's device can detect to the location database, which contains correlations of known Wi-Fi access points and cell towers to observed latitudes and longitudes. We may also query trusted third-party location positioning databases, such as Nokia's positioning database, which contain similar information, and then return the best results based on each query.

  • GPS (Global Positioning System) is not available on all mobile devices or effective from all locations, particularly indoor locations and urban environments with tall buildings. Additionally, using GPS consumes more battery power and uses more data than using Wi-Fi or cell towers to determine location. The additional consumption can have an impact on mobile phone users by increasing data charges and draining the battery. Microsoft's location positioning system uses a combination of available GPS, Wi-Fi access points, and cell towers to offer location positioning services in the most efficient and effective manner.

  • You don't have to. We believe you should always have choice and control over access and use of your device's location. Before any application can gain access to information regarding a user's location, you must allow the application to access your device's location. Location-aware applications are required to provide the ability to turn off that application's access to your location. And you can always turn off access for all applications by turning off location positioning services.

    To turn off location positioning services for all applications, do the following:

    1. From Start, flick left to the App list, and then tap Settings.

    2. Tap Location, and then turn off Location services.

  • Absolutely. Windows Phone users can always decide to turn location positioning services off in one of two ways:

    • By withdrawing consent and turning off location positioning services for that particular application. For example, to turn off location awareness for Search, go to Settings > Applications > Search, and then turn off Use my location.
    • By turning off access to location positioning services for all applications on the phone. To do this, go to Settings > Location and turn off Location services.
  • Microsoft uses two methods to assemble and maintain its location positioning database:

    • Collection from managed driving
    • Collection from mobile devices using location services
  • For many cities, towns, and geographical regions, Microsoft uses mobile teams who drive vehicles equipped with mobile phones that contain software which collects Wi-Fi information broadcast by Wi-Fi access points and then transmits this information directly to Microsoft's location positioning database. The process is similar to when a user searches for Wi-Fi "hot spots" on a mobile device or laptop, and the information collected is the same information that any user can view when trying to connect to available networks from a personal computer or other mobile device.

    By using the GPS available on the mobile phone that is used to collect Wi-Fi access point information, Microsoft also observes the actual latitude and longitude when the vehicle observes the Wi-Fi access point information. This allows the location positioning database to associate particular Wi-Fi access points with a particular location.

    For more information about Streetside and driving locations, go to this Microsoft website.

  • The phones in the vehicles observe the following Wi-Fi access point information:

    • BSSID (that is, the Media Access Control [MAC] address)
    • Signal strength
    • Radio type (for example, 802.11n)

    By using the GPS available on the mobile phone used to collect Wi-Fi access point information, these phones will also observe the actual latitude/longitude and direction and speed when the vehicle observes the Wi-Fi access point information.

  • No. Microsoft engineered and tested the software to make sure that it only observes the information publicly broadcast by Wi-Fi access points to identify access points to devices. The software does not collect any packets transmitted over encrypted or non-encrypted networks and does not attempt to connect to any open networks. This means that any private data you have transmitted over your Wi-Fi network (for example, email or other data you may have sent) is not detectable by the location positioning service software.

  • No. Microsoft engineered and tested the software to make sure that it only observes the information that is publicly broadcast by Wi-Fi access points to identify access points to devices. The software does not collect any packets transmitted over encrypted or non-encrypted networks and does not attempt to connect to any open networks.

  • No. Microsoft only surveys information broadcast by Wi-Fi access points. Microsoft does not observe or try to retrieve information about devices connected to a particular access point.

  • Yes. You can submit the MAC addresses of your Wi-Fi network devices (such as a Wi-Fi access point or router) to a block list. When you do this, Microsoft will not use the MAC address of your Wi-Fi network device or any data associated with its MAC address. In addition, we will not pass such MAC addresses to location positioning database partners when we utilize such partners. For more information, go to Opt out of location services.

  • The MAC address for a Wi-Fi access point (such as a wireless router) is a 12 character code that you can usually find on a sticker located on the bottom of the device. If no sticker is present, you can also find the MAC address through the utility used to manage your wireless network.

  • No. We recognize that certain access point owners may use personal information to identify their network (for example, by naming a network "Smith Family Network"), so Microsoft will not collect the SSID broadcast by a Wi-Fi access point.

  • In addition to managed driving, in order to assemble and maintain its location positioning database, Microsoft surveys available Wi-Fi access points when users are using location-aware features or applications on their mobile device. These Wi-Fi access points are only surveyed if all of the following conditions are met:

    • The user has given permission to turn on location positioning services on the device.
    • The user has allowed a particular application to access location positioning services and the application requests location information.
    • Wi-Fi is turned on on the device.

    If any of these conditions are not met, the mobile device will not survey Wi-Fi access points.

  • The Wi-Fi access point elements observed and information collected from mobile devices includes the following:

    • BSSID (the MAC address of the Wi-Fi access point)
    • Signal strength
    • Randomly generated unique device ID

    If GPS is available on the mobile device, Microsoft will also collect the following:

    • Observed latitude and longitude
    • Direction and speed
  • No. We only collect Wi-Fi access point information if Wi-Fi is turned on on the mobile device and location information (including Wi-Fi access point information) is only observed when an application or user makes a request for location information. An application will only request this information if a user has allowed that application to access and use location.

  • No. Microsoft's location services will only collect location information when you allow a particular application to request location information and that particular application requests location information.

  • No. The privacy of users who contribute data from their mobile devices is important to us. As noted above, Microsoft's location positioning services will only collect location information when an application you've allowed to access location specifically requests that data. Microsoft doesn't store or use any unique device identifiers or other data that personally identifies you or that would allow tracking or creating a location history of your device in connection with Microsoft's location positioning services. When users contribute location information from their mobile devices to Microsoft's location positioning services, we collect the MAC addresses and signal strengths of local cell towers and Wi-Fi access points (assuming the Windows Phone's Wi-Fi functionality is turned on).

  • No. The information we store on your phone is about the location of nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers. We store this information so that applications you have given permission to access your location can retrieve it more quickly.

  • No. The location information in Microsoft's location positioning services is not shared with mobile operators.

  • Yes. We may use trusted third-party location positioning databases to provide improved location positioning on your device. For example, when an application on your device requests location, we may also query a partner's location positioning database to allow your device to better determine its location. This is particularly helpful in a case where the Microsoft database may not have as much Wi-Fi access point or cell tower location information as the partner for a specific geographic area. Just as with the Microsoft location positioning database, the partner database will receive information about nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi access points and GPS data, but will receive no information that identifies you or uniquely identifies your device.

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