LocationSmart, one of the companies Verizon, AT&T, and other carriers sell location info to, can use this information to pinpoint the real-time location of someone in just under 15 seconds. 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.
None of the carriers said they are getting out of the business of selling location data.
Verizon announced today it would scale back a program that can expose cell phone location data of millions of customers without their consent.
"We are committed to protecting the privacy and security of our customers' location information, and will keep you informed as we execute our plan to terminate these location-based aggregation arrangements with the aggregators", Zacharia wrote.
Wyden documented how law enforcement officers were able to track the real-time location of users without proper documentation.
Verizon will reportedly become the first major USA wireless carrier to end the practice of selling location data from its devices to third-party brokers. Verizon also likely wants to avoid any real, meaningful privacy rules, something the company has been fighting against for the better part of the last decade.
The company was responding to Sen.
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"Verizon deserves credit for taking quick action to protect its customers' privacy and security", Wyden said in a statement on Tuesday.
"In contrast, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint seem content to continuing to sell their customers' private information to these shady middle men, Americans' privacy be damned", he said.
Yet relatively few knew that wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T and Sprint sell that location data to brokers, effectively knocking over the first domino in a series of transactions involving their personal info.
As for T-Mobile and Sprint, things are still up in the air. They allow users to obtain nearby emergency roadside assistance, for example, and are useful in preventing bank fraud. Sprint previously suspended all data sharing with LocationSmart on May 25, 2018. Verizon also said it would not enter into any more data-sharing contracts with third parties. The data has allowed third parties to track wireless devices without their owners' knowledge or consent. However, the location sharing was supposed to only take place with a customer's consent.
Moy said Verizon may have been motivated by an 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 legislator had demanded last month that carriers and the Federal Communications Commission investigate the practice of tracking phones by a company that provides services to prisons and jails.
Analysts say it's hard to gauge the size of the location-tracking aggregation market.