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Windows 7 knows where you are
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Written by Daniel   
Friday, 07 November 2008 11:34
November 7, 2008 4:00 AM PST
Windows 7 knows where you are
Posted by Ina Fried

LOS ANGELES--Windows 7 has a new programming interface designed to make it a whole lot easier for software to figure out where in the world a PC and its user are located.

That should make it easier for a whole new range of location-based services from finding nearby friends to LoJack-like PC tracking programs. Even search could be a whole lot better if the search engine knew where you were. Indeed, searchers often enter their city with their location to try and get just that benefit.
"There's so many times you have to enter in where you are at," said Microsoft program manager Alec Berntson.

At the same time, broader use of location-based services could also open up a range of privacy concerns.

Those issues--and how to handle them--was the subject of a discussion this week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here.

Microsoft does give a range of control options, such as turning off location services by default, as well as the ability to limit such services only to specific users or only to applications, as opposed to services that run in the background. However, the operating system doesn't allow users the option of letting only certain applications access your location. So, for example, if you turn it on for a mapping program, any other Windows application running could also access that information.

The reason, Microsoft officials say, is that Windows doesn't have a reliable means of determining that an application is what it says it is, so any attempt to limit the location to a specific application would be easily spoofable, Berntson said during the WinHEC discussion.

"We only promise the control that we can realistically give to them, rather than trying to promise more than we can deliver," Berntson said.

That said, application-based control, "would be great to have and it is certainly on our Christmas list for future stuff," he said.

But, not everyone felt that Windows 7 was doing all it could on the privacy front. One attendee suggested, for example, that Microsoft at least notify users when an application requests location information.

Although technically possible, Berntson said that's not currently on Microsoft's roadmap for Windows 7.

In fairness, location-based services are actually more secure in Windows 7 than in the past. That's because in past versions of Windows, there was really no way to reliably turn off location information.

"The old way of doing it--there was no warning, there was no switch, there was nothing," said Microsoft lead product manager Daniel Polivy. That said, it was so cumbersome that few people have enabled such location-based information or built services on top of them. [C/net News...]   [Comments...]
 

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