Wyden: Verizon to stop selling customers' location

Wyden: Verizon to stop selling customers' location

"When these issues were brought to our attention, we took immediate steps to stop it. Customer privacy and security remain a top priority for our customers and our company", Verizon said of the decision in a company statement.

Verizon and AT&T both told Wyden on Tuesday that they would cease location data-sharing arrangements with such firms, including LocationSmart and Zumigo Inc. Those types of services can include routing calls to the right facility, fraud prevention and vehicle tracking.

In May, Wyden asked the FCC to investigate the "abusive and potentially unlawful practices" of cell phone companies selling access to customers' real-time location. The data are used for everything from marketing nearby shops to preventing credit-card fraud.

"Chairman Pai's total abandonment of his responsibility to protect Americans' security shows that he can't be trusted to oversee an investigation into the shady companies that he used to represent", Wyden said. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint followed suit Tuesday after The Associated Press reported the Verizon move.

"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. "Nonetheless, we are reviewing these issues carefully to ensure the proper handling of all AT&T customer information". Following Wyden's letter, security researcher Brian Krebs revealed that LocationSmart was leaking the real-time data "to anyone via a buggy component of its Web site - without the need for any password or other form of authentication or authorization".

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A spokesman for T-Mobile didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The data is obtained using cell towers, and while it's slower and less accurate than Global Positioning System, allows the tracking to happen seamlessly in the background without alerting the person in question.

The cutoff won't affect users' ability to share locations directly with apps and other services.

As Verizon prepares to end its contracts with location aggregators, it said it will not start any new agreements until it feels "comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers' location data", discussing the benefits providing location data can provide if it's not being abused.

Verizon's letter also said that in addition to obtaining its own customers' consent before collecting the data, the company also looks at the third-party customers of its data vendors to be sure they have not violated consumer privacy or protection rules. But the GOP-led Congress quashed those rules past year. Every so often that lack of oversight becomes painfully clear as we just saw with the Securus and Locationsmart scandal, which exposed the location data of roughly 200 million U.S. and Canadian wireless consumers. Wireless carriers have been selling that data for years, but it looks like USA operators are now changing their practices a bit.

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