Following an outcry of serious concerns about the privacy of users of laptops , cell phones and other mobile devices that connect with Wi-Fi, Microsoft has halted its publication of the estimated location of those devices on its Live.com geolocation service.
Microsoft made the choice to alter the service after it received significant criticism of the way its database was being constructed by both “managed driving” Wi-Fi signal recording vehicles that can be accessed by public roads, and Windows Phone 7 devices. This can function through the MAC address of a Wi-Fi device, which acts like a fingerprint to provide a unique identification.
Though Microsoft had initially stood fast that it could not use its Wi-Fi database for tracking an individual device, with one of their program managers claiming that “It was not possible to use the service to track a roaming mobile phone or laptop using its MAC address prior to this change,” not a full day passed before the company retracted this statement after being shown specifically how the movements of a Wi-Fi device could effectively be tracked.
The Live.com database, which had been providing a Wi-Fi device’s specific geographical location, had been functioning as per usual until Friday, July 29, 2011. However, following the scrutiny of the privacy issues it entailed, restricted access of the service began on the next day.
Google had previously made a similar move, limiting the access to its own geolocation database following comparable criticism on July 15, 2011. Equally, Apple’s version of the issue was addressed back in April.