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

All four major US carriers have promised to stop selling your location data after a company was caught providing unauthorized data to law enforcement

One of the key problems in location and other data sharing is that wireless cell carriers have found a way to effectively operate outside any meaningful privacy guidelines by perpetually passing the onus for user consent down a long line of location data aggregators.

Verizon indicated it would end its relationships with brokers LocationSmart and Zumigo in response to an inquiry from Sen.

"Verizon did the responsible thing", Wyden said in a statement on Tuesday. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has been probing the phone location-tracking market. The carriers together have more than 300 million U.S. subscribers. Verizon's Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia noted to the AP that the practice is important for "beneficial services" like fraud prevention and emergency roadside assistance. In an email to the AP, AT&T spokesman Jim Greer cited similar reasons for cutting off the intermediaries "as soon as practical". A web portal allowed correctional officers to enter any United States phone number and obtain real-time location data on consumers. Popular commercial uses for the information include keeping tabs on packages, vehicles and employees; bank fraud prevention; and targeted marketing offers. LocationSmart provides data only at the instant it is requested by a service like roadside assistance and user consent has been obtained.

The practice has drawn criticism from privacy advocates who say users often don't know their data has been sold.

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Wyden wrote all four major USA wireless carriers on May 8 after learning about a web portal that let law officers track Americans' locations without proper oversight. The New York Times revealed how a former Mississippi County sheriff used Securus to get location data without a warrant. It added that it had suspended Securus' access to its customer data. The simple explanation is that Sprint uses legacy time division duplexing (TDD) technology, so the same frequencies are used for both downloads and uplinks, while the other carriers use dedicated bands for the goal. In a tweet, T-Mobile CEO John Legere told Wyden he "personally evaluated" the issue, pledging not to sell customer location to "shady middlemen". Verizon said the same.

"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", a Sprint spokesperson said. Shortly after that, Sprint and T-Mobile announced they would be doing the same, as the Associated Press reported. However, the location sharing was supposed to only take place with a customer's consent. And wireless operators are required by the FCC to provide customers' location information to 911 call centers.

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. Now that the broker sales are not permitted by the company, data sharing will not be possible.

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