Verizon Promises to Stop Selling Data to Third Party Brokers

Verizon, AT&T are cutting off location-data sharing contracts

Verizon, AT&T are cutting off location-data sharing contracts

USA 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.

Ron Wyden, D-Ore., into the shady practice of wireless carriers selling Americans' location to third parties - sometimes without permission - Verizon pledged to end its contacts with these "location aggregators", in a letter to Wyden released Tuesday. Verizon recently acknowledged that data acquired by two brokers - LocationSmart and Zumigo - allowed about 75 companies to access information about its customers.

On Tuesday, T-Mobile CEO John Legere said on Twitter that it too had ended partnerships with data aggregators.

In the wake of questions from Wyden's staff, Verizon filed a letter Tuesday saying that it is suspending its data-sharing agreement with LocationSmart and Zumigo until further notice. Specifically, the network said it "is beginning the process of terminating its current contracts with data aggregators to whom we provide location data". Securus users - typically law-enforcement and correctional facilities - were able to sidestep the usual court-authorized requirements on tracking customer locations. LocationSmart is supposed to obtain permission from cellphone owners before serving location data, but a bug in its website let anyone track any cell number from a United States carrier without getting consent.

Wyden asked the carriers to identify which third parties have been acquiring carrier location data and to provide details such as any third-party sharing of location data without customer consent.

"When these issues were brought to our attention, we took immediate steps to stop it. Customer privacy and security remain a top priority for our customers and our company", Verizon spokesman Rich Young said in a statement.

"Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off", Wyden said in a statement.

Shortly after Verizon made this announcement, AT&T followed suit and confirmed it was doing the same thing. Securus provides services to track and monitor inmates' phone calls to prisons and county jails, but it also used third-party location data from carriers to offer other services to clients, including phone tracking without requiring a warrant. "We will not enter into new location aggregation arrangements unless and until we are comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers' location data through technological advancements and/or other practices".

On its website, LocationSmart claims it is the No. 1 "location-as-a-service" provider with data from every top tier USA wireless carrier and more than 200 enterprise customers.

The carriers partnered with LocationSmart, which claimed it had "direct connections" to the cell giants' cache of location data. His office shared the companies' responses with The AP.

Updated at 4pm ET: Added a statement from Sprint and 4:22pm ET with comment from T-Mobile's chief executive.

The case also spurred FCC rules that would have required carriers to obtain consent for selling their customers' wireless location data.

"We are all tracked, all the time, primarily for marketing purposes, by such a large number of companies I'm not sure I would even know where to start the math", said Mogull.

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