Verizon Halts Third-Party Location Data Sharing

Verizon is getting accolades from Senator Ron Wyden, the Democrat from Oregon, for deciding to stop selling real-time location data to outside parties — and he called on the other wireless telecommunications providers to follow suit.

According to a report in ZDNet citing a statement by Wyden, the lawmaker said Verizon made the right call by halting a practice of selling data to aggregators including LocationSmart, which sold location data to a prison technology company that boasted it could track any U.S.-based cell phone in seconds. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have not ended the practice, raising the ire of Wyden. “Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off,” said Wyden in a statement, according to ZDnet. “In contrast, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint seem content to continuing to sell their customers' private information to these shady middle men, Americans’ privacy be damned.”

In response to Wyden's statement, AT&T said it would stop the practice.  “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,” said a spokesperson, according to ZDNet. Meanwhile, Sprint told the online publication it is “beginning the process of terminating its current contracts with data aggregators to whom we provide location data. This will take some time in order to unwind services to consumers, such as roadside assistance and fraud prevention services,” the company said. Sprint didn't give a timeline for when this will happen. T-Mobile eventually got into the statement-making game, with Chief Executive John Legere saying in a tweet that T-Mobile is committed to not sharing location data with any “shady middlemen.”

When the Democratic Senator called on the wireless carriers to explain why real-time location data was being shared with aggregators, the phone companies said it was common practice, but that the data should be more controlled. LocationSmart was a partner of the carriers and claimed to have direct connections with the carriers’ location data. One of LocationSmart's customers, 3Cinteractive, shared that data with Securus, which is a prison technology company that in turn violated the carriers’ policies in the way it used the data, and thus drew the ire of Wyden. LocationSmart has denied it buys and sells location data, saying to ZDNet it “does not warehouse or track a mobile user’s historic identity and location information.” It noted that it disabled Securus’ access on May 10 and is reviewing all customer use to ensure they are in compliance with LocationSmart's terms of use.



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