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

Verizon and AT&T will no longer sell customer location data to third party data brokers

Highlighting the privacy dangers of having user location data sold and resold, just one week after the abuse of Securus data emerged, a security researcher found that he was able to access the location of any mobile phone user through a one-line code hack on a "demo" website run by LocationSmart simply by entering their mobile number.

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 disclosed its move in a letter to Oregon Sen.

The Verge reported that because Verizon had little oversight into two California-based data brokers - LocationSmart and Zumigo - more than 75 companies had access to real-time user location data, which the telcom carrier claims to have had no control over.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere, in a Tweet, took issue with Wyden's statement, saying the company has made the same pledge as Verizon. Wireless carriers have been selling that data for years, but it looks like USA operators are now changing their practices a bit. Wyden said the company was not properly vetting law enforcement requests for location data provided by national wireless providers. For instance, a Missouri sheriff used the tracking service to target a judge and other law-enforcement officers, according to a New York Times story.

On its website, LocationSmart claims it is the No. 1 "location-as-a-service" provider with data from every top tier US wireless carrier and more than 200 enterprise customers.

On its website, LocationSmart claims it is the No. 1 "location-as-a-service" provider with data from every top tier USA wireless carrier and more than 200 enterprise customers.

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In a statement, LocationSmart said it respects user privacy, doesn't provide access to location information without user consent and doesn't warehouse data or track user location histories.

"Verizon deserves credit for taking quick action to protect its customers' privacy and security", Wyden said in a statement at the same time as he published the letters.

The company said it disabled Securus' access to location data in the wake of Wyden's report, and that "use of location information for investigative purposes was not an approved use case in our agreement with LocationSmart".

It's also important to note that Verizon said it will terminate its arrangements with data brokers "as soon as possible".

Nor can the other carriers, she said.

Moy said Verizon may have been motivated by a $1.4 million FCC fine for an earlier episode in which the company quietly tracked its wireless customers' online travels with a "supercookie" for at least 22 months beginning in December 2012. "The company does not warehouse or track a mobile user's historic identity and location information", said the company. He said Zumigo does not let its customers resell the location data — and hopes to renegotiate with the carriers. "We stand-by that commitment to our customers".

That still leaves T-Mobile and Sprint that continue to sell location data under the same program that they already know has been abused.

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