Major Telecommunication Firms Discontinue Selling Users' Location Data

Remigio Civitarese
Giugno 22, 2018

Wyden's May 8 letter also called on wireless carriers to investigate the issue after his own investigation revealed questionable data handling practices by a company called Securus Technologies.

Under its programme known internally as Location Data Integration, Verizon shared rough location data on its customers - information the customers had previously agreed to share - to LocationSmart, which in turn provided the information to Securus. Ron Wyden of OR raised the issue in a letter to Federal Communication Commission chairman Ajit Pai.

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.

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have pledged to stop providing information on United States phone owners' locations to data brokers, stepping back from a business practice that has drawn criticism for endangering privacy.

The FCC rules crafted under the Obama administration would have required carriers to obtain consent for selling their customers' wireless location data, but the Republican-led Congress rejected those rules a year ago. It did so in a June 15 letter to Sen.

It was reported last month that prison call-monitoring firm Securus Technologies offered law enforcement agencies a service meant to identify peoples' location through their mobile devices without a court order. "This practice skirts wireless carrier's legal obligation to be the sole conduit by which the government conducts surveillance of Americans' phone records, and needlessly exposes millions of Americans to potential abuse and surveillance by the government", Widen said.

"Verizon did the responsible thing", Wyden said in a statement on Tuesday. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint's moves Tuesday followed a prior AP report on Verizon, which became the first major carrier to declare plans to end such data-sharing practices earlier this month. LocationSmart provides data only at the instant it is requested by a service like roadside assistance and user consent has been obtained.

Like the Facebook scandal, there wasn't much in place to really ensure that often real-time data remained protected, something made clear when the LocationSmart scandal revealed that one Missouri Sheriff routinely (ab) used the system to spy on Judges and fellow law enforcement officers without much legitimate justification (or pesky warrants). Sprint said that it is "beginning the process of terminating its current contracts with data aggregators to whom we provide location data", noting that it suspended data sharing with LocationSmart at the end of May. Wyden did subsequently tweet that "every major wireless carrier says they will cut ties with the middlemen who sell your location information".

Nonetheless, as the AP noted, the carriers didn't answer Wyden's questions about the companies to which they sold customer location data.

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