Verizon, AT&T to end location data sales to brokers

Judy Cobb
June 22, 2018

The Verizon logo is seen on the side of a truck in New York City, U.S., October 13, 2016.

Verizon's decision to choke off data aggregators was applauded by Wyden, who issued a statement: "After my investigation and follow-up reports revealed that middlemen are selling Americans' location to the highest bidder without their consent, or making it available on insecure web portals, Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off". But despite Wyden's best efforts to figure out how this illicit market in location data works, Verizon refused to name the other third parties that have been granted access to users' location data, noting only that another 75 companies had sub-contracted with the two companies. Wyden said the company was not properly vetting law enforcement requests for location data provided by national wireless providers. US carriers are still going to collect your location info, but the fact that they're no longer selling it to other businesses is a big step forward.

Verizon Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia said the company would be careful not to disrupt "beneficial services" such as fraud prevention and emergency roadside assistance.

Shares of Verizon were up 2.2 percent at $48.49 in afternoon trading. Sprint previously suspended all data sharing with LocationSmart on May 25, 2018.

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LocationSmart was later forced to pull part of its website offline after a vulnerability allowed a security researcher to obtain real-time location data without obtaining consent from the user. The legislator had demanded last month that carriers and the Federal Communications Commission investigate the practice of tracking phones by a company that provides services to prisons and jails. All the major cell networks have long sold location data to third parties, who were supposed to vet how it was being used. His office shared the companies' responses with The AP. And as the Location Smart and Securus scandal proved, that data isn't always all that anonymous, and can routinely be abused.

In a small victory for your privacy, the nation's four largest telecom companies announced Tuesday that they will stop providing customer location information to companies that aggregate data on their customers. "Nonetheless, we are reviewing these issues carefully to ensure the proper handling of all AT&T customer information". It will also refrain from signing new data-sharing contracts with third parties.

Within hours of Verizon's announcement, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile - made similar promises to safeguard customers' location data.

"Verizon deserves credit for taking quick action to protect its customers' privacy and security", Wyden said in a statement. So far, neither Sprint nor T-Mobile have been willing to comment or join the fun, despite T-Mobile's reputation as a fierce consumer ally (ignoring their opposition to net neutrality, of course). But the GOP-led Congress quashed those rules a year ago.

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