Verizon recently pledged to stop giving data brokers access to the real-time location of USA cellphone users, and now the other big three carriers are following suit. It will also refrain from signing new data-sharing contracts with third parties, "until we are comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers' location data through technological advancements and/or other practices". It is now not clear if they will begin to directly broker their location data with enterprise customers.
Verizon was the first major carrier to declare it would end sales of such data to brokers that then provide it to others. That action was laid out in carriers' letters to Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has been probing the phone location-tracking market.
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have pledged to terminate their agreements with "location aggregators" used for services like roadside assistance and bank fraud prevention. Or the self-audits did reveal problems, but the money made from selling this data made actually fixing them a low priority. The carriers together have more than 300 million USA subscribers. Wyden in May detailed how one of LocationSmart's customers, Securus Technologies, has been providing some of the data to law enforcement officials without proper oversight or user consent. This could help them stay on top of changing trends in data use and prevent them from having to make a massive shift in their business without a backup plan.
The practice has drawn criticism from privacy advocates who say users often don't know their data has been sold.
Securus allows prisons to monitor the location of inmate phone calls.
"Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off", Wyden said in a statement, referring to the aggregators as "shady middlemen". The simple explanation is that Sprint uses legacy time division duplexing (TDD) technology, so the same frequencies are used for both downloads and uplinks, while the other carriers use dedicated bands for the objective.
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In a letter to Senator Ron Wyden of OR dated June 15 and released by Wyden's office on Tuesday, Verizon said it was beginning the process to stop selling customer location data to vendors that aggregate the data.
"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. Shortly after that, Sprint and T-Mobile announced they would be doing the same, as the Associated Press reported.
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. However, the location sharing was supposed to only take place with a customer's consent.
The case also spurred FCC rules that would have required carriers to obtain consent for selling their customers' wireless location data.
Analysts say it's hard to gauge the size of the location-tracking aggregation market. It needs to be noted that the sharing of real-time location is a common practice among cellular service providers. Zumigo appears oriented to the financial sector, and lists Intel, Wells Fargo and Capital One among investors.