20 Jun 2018
AP – Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have pledged to stop providing information on U.S. phone owners’ locations to data brokers, stepping back from a business practice that has drawn criticism for endangering privacy.
The data has apparently allowed outside companies to pinpoint the location of wireless devices without their owners’ knowledge or consent. Verizon said that about 75 companies have been obtaining its customer data from two little-known California-based brokers that Verizon supplies directly — LocationSmart and Zumigo.
Verizon was the first major carrier to declare it would end sales of such data to brokers that then provide it to others. It did so in a June 15 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has been probing the phone location-tracking market. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint followed suit Tuesday after The Associated Press reported the Verizon move.
None of the carriers said they are getting out of the business of selling location data. The carriers together have more than 300 million U.S. subscribers.
Verizon Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia said the company would be careful not to disrupt “beneficial services” such as 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.”
Last month, Wyden revealed abuses in the lucrative but loosely regulated field involving Securus Technologies and its affiliate 3C Interactive. Verizon says their contract was approved only for the location tracking of outside mobile phones called by prison inmates.
Verizon notified LocationSmart and Zumigo, both privately held, that it intends to “terminate their ability to access and use our customers’ location data as soon as possible,” Zacharia wrote.
Location data from Verizon and other carriers makes it possible to identify the whereabouts of nearly any phone in the U.S. within seconds. Popular commercial uses for the information include keeping tabs on packages, vehicles and employees; bank fraud prevention; and targeted marketing offers.
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