It might be time to state the obvious: If you have a smartphone in your pocket, someone knows where you are, right now. First, we found out that Apple, maker of the uber-popular iPhone and iPad, has been storing and tracking location data on its devices for more than a year now. Next, we learned that Google, the company that likely knows what you'll be having for dinner before you do, was also in on the fun.
Now, it looks like Microsoft has been collection location data on devices running the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system. Surprise!
Concerns over location-tracking smartphones first surfaced last week when data scientists Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden announced that they had come across a file on Apple devices running iOS 4.0 or later, which appeared to store historical location data for the past year. Not only that, but these devices were sending this data back to Apple twice a day. Researchers and hackers alike quickly began poking around and found that Google was also tracking location on its Android mobile operating system. By comparison, however, Android does not store the data locally, instead sending only recent location data back to servers.
Now, CNET's Declan McCullagh has reported that "Windows Phone 7, supported by manufacturers including Dell, HTC, LG, Nokia, and Samsung, transmits to Microsoft a miniature data dump including a unique device ID, details about nearby Wi-Fi networks, and the phone's GPS-derived exact latitude and longitude."
According to the article, Windows Phone 7 sends small data packets back to the server, but does not store anything locally on the device. Unlike the rest, iOS devices store the data locally (and unencrypted, unless you tell iTunes to encrypt your backup), which Apple insider John Gruber speculates is simply an oversight or a bug by Apple. Either way, it's grossly insecure.
With Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7 all joining in on the location tracking, storing, recording fun, we're just left with Nokia Symbian and RIM, which The Guardian has inquired with, but so far hasn't posted a response.
Either way, we're thinking it's safe to say - if you are carrying a device with a GPS chip in your pocket, put on your tinfoil hat because you, my friend, are being tracked.