Verizon, AT&T and Sprint to stop selling location data of customers

Ruben Fields
June 22, 2018

It's just as bad on the wireless side, where carriers like Verizon have routinely have been caught modifying user data packets to track users around the internet (without telling them or providing opt out tools), and selling user browsing, app-usage and location data to everyone that comes calling.

"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", said Senator Wyden in a written statement.

The four largest wireless cellular companies in the U.S. - Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile - pledged to end their "location aggregation" services on Tuesday in response to an investigation into the common practice by Democratic Oregon Sen.

To address privacy concerns, the country's major wireless carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint have vowed to block LocationSmart and another location data broker, Zumigo Inc., from gaining access to their customers' location details. It's strictly between carriers and their previous decisions to give data to these third parties. Neither AT&T nor Verizon commented to the AP on how they plan on continuing to sell location data directly to companies instead of working with LocationSmart and Zumigo.

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Securus allows prisons to monitor the location of inmate phone calls. But Securus and 3Cinteractive also provided the data to law enforcement for investigative purposes, according to Verizon and AT&T's letter to Wyden "Use of location information for investigative purposes was not an approved use case in our agreement with LocationSmart", Verizon added in its letter. Verizon said it will terminate its agreements with the two firms, LocationSmart and Zumibo, "as soon as possible". A former sheriff in Missouri has been accused of using Securus data for unauthorized surveillance of a judge, a sheriff and state highway patrol officers.

"The carriers basically have arrangements with these location aggregators that contractually say, "You agree not to use this access we provide you without getting customer consent", Reid said.

LocationSmart pushed back against Wyden's characterization, insisting in a statement that it "does not buy or sell location information, nor does it permit the sharing of location information about any mobile device without a user's consent". And, in short, it's promising to suspend such data sales at least until it can ensure that data is actually secure (what an incredibly novel idea).

But AT&T soon followed suit, writing in a statement that "we will be ending our work with aggregators for these services as soon as practical in a way that preserves important, potential lifesaving services like emergency roadside assistance".

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