Posted by Reid Kuhn
Partner Group Program Manager, Windows Phone Engineering Team, Microsoft

There continues to be a high level of public interest in how and why companies collect Wi-Fi access point information. Windows Phone division president Andy Lees recently talked about the privacy principles that were used in designing location-based services on Windows Phone 7. As part of our ongoing commitment to consumer privacy, we are taking an additional step to provide even more transparency about how we gather information through managed driving to provide location-based services.

Today, Microsoft is sharing relevant portions of the source code for our managed driving data collection software to provide those interested an opportunity to review the code we use for collection of such information. The source code is hosted on the MSDN web site. The source code demonstrates both the type and amount of data we collect when surveying Wi-Fi access points through managed driving.

As we build the database used to provide location-based services for Windows Phone 7, we use vehicles to gather available data (what is commonly referred to as “managed driving”) by equipping the vehicle with mobile phones that survey Wi-Fi access points and cell tower locations. The mobile phones we use for these surveys are only capable of observing the same data points about Wi-Fi access points that any phone, computer or other device connecting to Wi-Fi access points can observe. By building this database of available Wi-Fi access points and cell towers, we can provide the location capabilities and services for Windows Phone and Bing that consumers demand, including search results, weather, movie times, maps and directions based on a device’s current location.

The code, developed by the Windows Phone Engineering team, uses publicly documented interfaces for accessing cell tower, Wi-Fi data access point and GPS data. In addition to collecting and uploading GPS, Wi-Fi and cell data, it also includes other management and administrative functions related to provisioning, self-upgrade, self-recovery and diagnostics.

Additionally, and important for respecting consumer privacy, the software does not intercept wireless data transmissions from consumers’ computers (so called “payload” data). The software neither observes nor records any information that may contain user content transmitted over a network. At Microsoft, we place a priority on privacy and take steps to help ensure that our products and services protect consumers’ information. Sharing this source code, and developing Windows Phone 7 with privacy in mind, is part of that commitment.