Major Mobile Carriers Vow to Stop Providing Cell Phone Locations to Brokers

Joanna Estrada
June 22, 2018

Clearly hoping to get ahead of the scandal before the press, public and regulators realized the depths of this particular rabbit hole, Verizon proclaimed that the company would be ending all sales of location data to third party data brokers. They involved a former Missouri sheriff who allegedly used a location tracking service to surveil colleagues.

Wyden praised Verizon's response and said the replies from its rivals suggested they "seem content to continue to sell their customers' private information to these shady middle men, Americans' privacy be damned".

Executives who lead companies that work with such data should take notice of the move made by these four major U.S. carriers, as it fundamentally shifts a major revenue stream away from the business.

Now that the decision has been made, real-time location data of Verizon customers will not be provided to data brokers.

To address privacy concerns, the country's major wireless carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint have vowed to block LocationSmart and another location data broker, Zumigo Inc., from gaining access to their customers' location details.

"Verizon is learning from Facebook's mistakes by getting out in front of this issue", Dan Goldstein, the president and owner of the marketing firm Page 1 Solutions, said in emailed commentary to Mobile Marketer.

"We are taking this further step to ensure that any instances of unauthorized location data sharing for purposes not approved by Sprint can be identified and prevented if location data is shared inappropriately by a participating company", a Sprint spokesperson said. T-Mobile has offered to buy Sprint for $26.5 billion.

The carriers left most of Wyden's questions unanswered - such as how many of their customers had been affected by location sharing they never agreed to. "I think they understand that bad privacy practices are bad for business", she said. However, the location sharing was supposed to only take place with a customer's consent. "LocationSmart is an "aggregator" only in the sense that it provides an interface that enables service providers to request location information from wireless carriers", a LocationSmart spokesperson to the WSJ.

The case also spurred FCC rules that would have required carriers to obtain consent for selling their customers' wireless location data. Zumigo appears oriented to the financial sector, and lists Intel, Wells Fargo and Capital One among investors.

The Associated Press reports that the networks are responding to a congressional investigation led by Senator Ron Wyden of OR, who also sent letters asking what the telecoms are doing to protect user data from being tracked through easily-accessible web portals.

Analyst Rich Mogull of Arizona-based Securosis said telecom providers track and sell location data as a matter of course.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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