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Microsoft denies Windows Phone tracking claims

Microsoft, the latest company to be caught up in the 'locationgate' furore, has issued a statement denying that Windows Phone 7 tracks smartphone owners without their express consent.

The official statement follows the filing of a suit in the Seattle federal court last week alleging that the software giant was uploading user location information from Windows Phone 7 handsets to a remote server, despite users choosing to opt-out of location-based services in the device's options.

The suit was filed last week, backed by analysis from security researcher Samy Kamkar. "The Windows Mobile operating system is clearly sending information that can lead to accurate location information of the mobile device," Kamkar wrote in the report which forms the heart of the legal filing, "regardless of whether the user allowed it."

Microsoft is hardly the first company to be targeted over claims of user tracking: both Apple and Google have been accused of the same transgression, with the former currently on the hook for £15.3 million in damages should a South Korean court find in favour of 27,000 iPhone users in an ongoing case.

"Microsoft is investigating the claims raised in the complaint," a company spokesperson told thinq_ in response to our queries. "We take consumer privacy issues very seriously. Our objective was - and remains - to provide consumers with control over whether and how data used to determine the location of their devices are used, and we designed the Windows Phone operating system with this in mind.

"Because we do not store unique identifiers with any data transmitted to our location service database by the Windows Phone camera or any other application, the data captured and stored on our location database cannot be correlated to a specific device or user," the company further claims. "Any transmission of location data by the Windows Phone camera would not enable Microsoft to identify an individual or 'track' his or her movements."

Despite the claims that it doesn't 'track' users per se, Microsoft's statement has plenty of wiggle room: note, for example, that it fails to deny the transmission of location data as highlighted in Kamkar's report.

Location-based services are proving big business: Microsoft itself has introduced a Windows Phone app which allows users to track each other's location - with permission, naturally - when organising a group outing, while Sony will be including a geocaching-inspired metagame dubbed Near with its upcoming Vita console.

As 'locationgate' has shown, however, it's an area in which companies need to tread carefully: for every smartphone user willing to publicly disclose their information via apps like Foursquare, there are still more who wish nothing more than to remain private. Companies that mess with that via opt-out or sneaky silent location tracking do so at their peril.