Published: Fri, June 22, 2018
IT&Software | By Alfonso Woods

Cellular Carriers Swear Off Location Data Sales

Cellular Carriers Swear Off Location Data Sales

The data reveals the location of subscribers using a wireless device, and without their permission, the information is sold to data brokers who sell access to the data.

"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. Typically, the company said, the data sharing helps vehicle rental companies provide roadside assistance and allows financial services companies to combat fraud. Ron Wyden of OR raised the issue in a letter to Federal Communication Commission chairman Ajit Pai.

Last month, Wyden revealed abuses in the lucrative but loosely regulated field involving Securus Technologies, whose contract Verizon says was approved only for the location tracking of outside mobile phones called by prison inmates. Verizon recently acknowledged that data acquired by two brokers - LocationSmart and Zumigo - allowed about 75 companies to access information about its customers. 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 is the first US wireless carrier to announce plans to break ties with these data brokers.

The sale of such data, which was done through intermediaries, has always been under fire as it allowed third-party companies to track people's movements without their knowledge or consent.

Letters from the four cell giants were published Tuesday after Wyden demanded last month to know why millions of Americans' real-time location data was being shared with so-called aggregators, which manage data requests for customer data across the carriers.

This issue came to the fore earlier this year when a former sheriff was charged with illegally using a phone location service 11 times without securing a court order. Every so often that lack of oversight becomes painfully clear as we just saw with the Securus and Locationsmart scandal, which exposed the location data of roughly 200 million U.S. and Canadian wireless consumers.

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

The carriers partnered with LocationSmart, which claimed it had "direct connections" to the cell giants' cache of location data. It said it would not authorize any "new uses" of the data while that "transition" went ahead. Verizon is the first telecom company to discontinue the sale of this data.

The move by Verizon comes as consumers and lawmakers are increasingly concerned about privacy and security amid data breaches by tech firms, including Facebook Inc.

Shortly after Verizon made this announcement, AT&T followed suit and confirmed it was doing the same thing.

"AT&T has no reason to believe that there are other instances of unauthorized access to AT&T customer location data".

"We're trying to do with right thing for our customers", he said.

"Verizon deserves credit for taking quick action to protect its customers' privacy and security", Wyden said in a statement. "The company does not warehouse or track a mobile user's historic identity and location information", said the company.

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