Verizon to stop selling cellphone location data to brokers

Verizon to stop selling cellphone location data to brokers

Verizon and AT&T will no longer share customer location information with a number of third-party companies that failed to handle the data appropriately, the firms said Tuesday.

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

Sprint said account holders must "generally be notified" if the data is to be used so they can decide whether they consent.

The two largest USA wireless carrier announced the move in response to a plea from Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission last month highlighting the probe, Wyden said prison officials using Securus's surveillance system could obtain real-time location data on Americans with little more than a "pinky promise" of propriety, leading to "activities wholly unrelated" to prison management.

In its letter, Verizon said that it provides location data through two aggregators - LocationSmart and Zumigo.

"We believe that ending the ability of law enforcement to use these critical tools will hurt public safety and put Americans at risk", the spokesman said. Shortly after that, T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted that the wireless carrier won't sell customers' location information to "shady middlemen", though he didn't elaborate about which companies he was referring to.

"We are committed to protecting the privacy and security of our customers' location information, and will keep you informed as we execute our plan to terminate these location-based aggregation arrangements with the aggregators", said Verizon chief privacy officer Karen Zacharia. It's bad enough that they have to watch the "Can you hear me now?" guy roast their network availability.

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Moy said Verizon may have been motivated by an FCC fine for an earlier episode in which the company quietly tracked its wireless customers' online travels with a "supercookie" for at least 22 months beginning in December 2012.

AT&T also noted that it works with LocationSmart while T-Mobile told Wyden it works with LocationSmart and Zumigo.

Securus didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Location data from Verizon and other carriers makes it possible to identify the whereabouts of almost any phone in the US within seconds.

The company subsequently signed a consent order with the FCC promising to restrict that tracking to customers who affirmatively agreed to it. Those regulations were repealed early previous year with a congressional resolution.

Analysts say it's hard to gauge the size of the location-tracking aggregation market. Zumigo appears oriented to the financial sector, and lists Intel, Wells Fargo and Capital One among investors. "We are taking this further step to ensure that any instances of unauthorized location data sharing for purposes not approved by Sprint can be identified and prevented if location data is shared inappropriately by a participating company".

In a statement, LocationSmart said it respects user privacy, doesn't provide access to location information without user consent and doesn't warehouse data or track user location histories.

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