Microsoft Missteps Add to Privacy Jitters

August 17, 2011  - By

Microsoft is contributing to the latest location privacy jitters. Missteps by Microsoft, Apple, and Google have the potential to dampen uptake of location solutions. Microsoft published the estimated locations of millions of laptops, cell phones, and other devices with Wi-Fi connections. The location database was assembled by Microsoft’s access to Windows phones and by vehicles that drive streets and record Wi-Fi signals accessible from public roads. The data were published on Microsoft’s website.

The problem is that Wi-Fi devices can be individually identified by a unique code, often called a MAC address. It’s not just Wi-Fi routers that can be identified. Phones and computers can be used as Wi-Fi access points, via tethering and other means, and their location can be monitored. Using the Microsoft data on, CNET tracked an HTC mobile device’s movements between house addresses in the city of Columbus, Ohio.

Skyhook conducts similar Wi-Fi mapping, but according to Ted Morgan of Skyhook, does not provides direct access to its database. “All our partners use our client location engine, which does the scanning and lookups to our system,” says Morgan. “We don’t gather any MAC addresses of client devices, only access points and devices that act as access points.” Google collects similar location information and curbed access to the data a few months ago after a CNET article appeared. Microsoft just announced it too would now restrict access. When will these guys learn?

Googleola Marriage. The announcement of Google’s intention to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, a heavy bucket of cash, will have repercussions throughout the industry. Google will become a mobile manufacturer in head-to-head competition with Apple and Research in Motion. For Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry, this may be a kiss of death, unless they are snapped up by someone like Microsoft, who may feel pressured to join the game. Google will have bought itself entry into the ferocious patent lawsuit war between Motorola Mobility and Microsoft at a time when relations between Microsoft and Google had improved.

Google’s Larry Page made assurances on the company’s blog that Android would remain an open system. “This acquisition will not change our commitment to run Android as an open platform. Many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success and we look forward to continuing to work with all of them to deliver outstanding user experiences”. Say that as he may, other Android handset manufacturers will now be competing with the supplier of their operating software in a distribution channel tangle.

Connected Car. The connected car, a vehicle with embedded modules and wireless services that link to the cloud and the car’s operating system, continues to evolve. The carriers are aggressively staking out territories. Verizon has shown off a car equipped with a 4G LTE modem with OnStar prototype apps. Sprint Nextel has worked with Aeris Communications to bring the Sprint network and cellular connectivity to the Hyundai connected vehicle program. AT&T has partnered with Panasonic Automotive.

Ford has led the car manufacturers with its SYNC offering that provides hands-free, voice controlled in-car connectively. Already in 3 million vehicles, SYNC will become available on Ford’s entire passenger line-up for $295, down from its current $395.

More than half of surveyed U.S. consumers find the concept of a connected vehicle appealing, according to a survey by Alcatel-Lucent. When it comes to opening wallets, the top applications are augmented GPS; maintenance, tracking, and notification; Wi-Fi; advanced voice features; and online environmental analysis.

It’s not all about Smartphones. The global mobile app market for feature phones will almost double by 2016, reports Ovum. The success of smartphone apps will drive feature phone apps to a predicted $1 billion market. Feature phones outsell smart phones, but have lagged in applications uptake. The upswing should be helped by the increasing ease of developing apps and publishing them for this market.

Personalization, not just Location. Feature phone mobile advertisements that are tailored to a consumer’s “tastes and interests” are four times more effective than offers based on location, time, or lifestyle, according to a poll of 2,000 U.S. consumers, commissioned by mobile marketing company, Upstream. The marketing activity that was found to most likely lead to a follow-up action included mobile coupons; opt-in text alert or message; an e-mail received on a mobile phone; an ad on a mobile website; or an ad that appears during an Internet search of a product or service.

Mark your Calendar.  Don’t miss LocNav 2011 October 18-19 in San Jose. The Where Business has co-located its annual Location Business Summit and Navigation conferences to create an even bigger show. I’ll be moderating the panel, “Connecting People Places and Things: Advertising and Social Networking in the Location Ecosystem.”

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About the Author:

Janice Partyka is principal of JGP Services,, a consulting practice that helps companies with marketing strategy, including investigating new markets, ensuring product roadmaps match market needs, and creating marketing campaigns. Janice develops websites, social media, public relations and overall marketing communication. She also works as an expert witness for the mobile industry and conducts prior art searches for patent cases. Janice has served in leadership capacities in the wireless industry, leading marketing, business development, media and government relations, including serving as vice president of external affairs for TechnoCom Corporation. She briefed the Obama transition team on broadband issues. Janice was a twice-elected member of the board of directors of the E9-1-1 Institute, which supports the work of the U.S. Congressional E9-1-1 Caucus to ensure implementation of wireless E9-1-1, and she was telecom liaison to the Intelligent Transportation Society's World Congress. Janice is a frequent speaker at mobile and location industry events. Her webinars on mobile applications and technologies draw audiences from more than 40 countries. Janice Partyka is also the founder of, a web service that helps college students find the right major that will lead to a satisfying career. Contact: Janice Partyka at, Free subscriptions to Wireless LBS Insider are available at

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