Verizon and AT&T to end location data sales to brokers

Cornelia Mascio
Giugno 20, 2018

Verizon and AT&T both told Wyden on Tuesday that they would cease location data-sharing arrangements with such firms, including LocationSmart and Zumigo Inc.

The three other main USA mobile operators that Wyden also contacted - AT&T, Spring and T-Mobile - also failed to name the companies that it sells such data to.

"Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off", Wyden said in a statement, referring to the aggregators as "shady middle men".

"Our review of our location aggregator program has led to a number of internal questions about how best to protect our customers' location data", Verizon wrote to Wyden. Typically, Verizon said, the data sharing helps auto rental companies provide roadside assistance and allows financial services companies combat fraud. Shortly after that, T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted that the wireless carrier won't sell customers' location information to "shady middlemen", though he didn't elaborate about which companies he was referring to.

AT&T for example fed Wyden the same line [PDF] that "despite AT&T's requirements to obtain customer consent, Securus did not in fact obtain customer consent before collecting customers' location information".

The phone giants say it's "common" to share data, such as when motorists are stranded or as part of workforce and fleet tracking, but said that customer data should have more tightly controlled.

None of the carriers said they are getting out of the business of selling location data. Only Verizon has pledged to end the sale of location data from its 116 million wireless subscribers through so-called "geolocation aggregators". The data Securus used reportedly came from another company, 3Cinteractive, which snagged it from LocationSmart (which has historically gotten data from the wireless carriers).

The data has apparently allowed outside companies to pinpoint the location of wireless devices without their owners' knowledge or consent. All the major cell networks have long sold location data to third parties, who were supposed to vet how it was being used.

As Verizon prepares to end its contracts with location aggregators, it said it will not start any new agreements until it feels "comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers' location data", discussing the benefits providing location data can provide if it's not being abused. "The company does not warehouse or track a mobile user's historic identity and location information", said the company.

The company said that it disabled Securus' access on May 10. "Nonetheless, we are reviewing these issues carefully to ensure the proper handling of all AT&T customer information".

But the phone giants remained vague on exactly how the companies obtained customers' consent to provide data to LocationSmart in the first place.

The company made its disclosure in a letter to Sen.

Customers, unable to opt out of the phone giants' privacy policies, may be locked in to sharing their location data with aggregators.

"I don't believe that there is anything consumers can do to opt-out of having their location data shared with third-parties like LocationSmart", said Stephanie Lacambra, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an email.

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