Cellular Carriers Swear Off Location Data Sales

Verizon, AT&T are cutting off location-data sharing contracts

Verizon will stop selling customer location data to aggregators (updated)

"While @Verizon & @ATT have now pledged to stop selling customer location data to shady middlemen, @TMobile & @sprint seem content to keep selling customers' private information, Americans' privacy be damned", the senator wrote. But The New York Times found that police and correctional officers could track anyone's location without their consent, because Securus turned over the data without verifying that a warrant had been obtained.

Verizon Communications has stopped selling data to a company that was pinpointing the location of customers' phones, responding to an outcry over actions by a prison contractor.

"Our top priority is to protect our customers' information, and, to that end, 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", AT&T said in a statement.

Law enforcement officers are ostensibly required to have a good reason for requesting real-time location data of cellular customers. Those services may include using the data to route a customer's call or prevent identify fraud, the company said. Sprint previously suspended all data sharing with LocationSmart on May 25, 2018.

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

When Verizon learned of the Securus issue, it took "immediate steps" to stop the misuse of data, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

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.

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Wyden had begun probing the largely unaccountable rabbit hole that is location data sharing.

Within hours of Verizon's announcement, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile - made similar promises to safeguard customers' location data. Both companies buy real-time access to this data from cell carriers, but a lack of oversight resulted in access to this data being routinely abused.

The move by Verizon could put pressure on its rivals to follow suit, especially as Wyden continues his very public campaign for the practice to end.

LocationSmart, in particular, drew headlines last month after a researcher discovered a website flaw that could have enabled anyone to access location data for devices on all four major carriers.

"Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off", said Wyden in a statement Tuesday, following an investigation by his office. "We will not enter into new location aggregation arrangements unless and until we are comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers' location data through technological advancements and/or other practices".

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

Sprint said account holders must "generally be notified" if the data is to be used so they can decide whether they consent.

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