Wyden: Verizon to stop selling customers' location

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

Verizon, AT&T will suspend sales of customer location data, after a prison phone company was caught misusing it

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. Like Verizon, AT&T says it needs to make sure essential services as emergency roadside assistance are not affected. Verizon said that about 75 companies have been obtaining its customer data from two little-known California-based brokers that Verizon supplies directly — LocationSmart and Zumigo. The legislator had demanded last month that carriers and the Federal Communications Commission investigate the practice of tracking phones by Securus Technologies Inc., which provides telecom services to prisons and jails. "I've personally evaluated this issue & have pledged that @tmobile will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen".

"Location data from Verizon and other carriers makes it possible to identify the whereabouts of almost any phone in the US within seconds", wrote security reporter Brian Krebs in a May blog post. The data Securus used reportedly came from another company, 3Cinteractive, which snagged it from LocationSmart (which has historically gotten data from the wireless carriers). How this will be done isn't entirely clear; in the company's letter to Wyden, Verizon said it'll create "alternative arrangements" to minimize the privacy risks. 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.

Location data sales aren't going away completely, though. And as the Location Smart and Securus scandal proved, that data isn't always all that anonymous, and can routinely be abused.

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Verizon would do so after discovering that brokers who purchased data did not verify whether its users had legal permission to track cell phone users through its service.

"Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off", Wyden said in a statement of his own.

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.

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In the wake of questions from Wyden's staff, Verizon filed a letter Tuesday saying that it is suspending its data-sharing agreement with LocationSmart and Zumigo until further notice. "Nonetheless, we are reviewing these issues carefully to ensure the proper handling of all AT&T customer information".

LocationSmart said in a statement Tuesday that it was reviewing the letters from the carriers, and denied that it buys and sells location data. Verizon will continue to use customer data more generally for advertising purposes, said Rich Young, a company spokesman, but only after its customers opt into data sharing.

Updated at 4pm ET: Added a statement from Sprint and 4:22pm ET with comment from T-Mobile's chief executive.

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