Verizon, AT&T cut ties with location aggregators who sold to law enforcement

News by Teri Robinson

After what it called "a comprehensive review" of its location aggregator program, Verizon said it will terminate existing location data sharing agreements with third-party brokers, a pledge echoed by AT&T.

After what it called “a comprehensive review” of its location aggregator program, Verizon said it will terminate existing location data sharing agreements with third-party brokers, a pledge echoed by AT&T.

“Despite the protections that Verizon built into its location aggregation arrangements, it appears that Securus and/or its affiliate 3C Interactive impermissibly permitted law enforcement agencies to request location information through LocationSmart [one of two aggregators with whom Verizon has contracts] for investigative purposes,” the Verizon Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia wrote to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in response to his May query. “Use of location information for investigative purposed was not an approved use case in our agreement with LocationSmart.”

Verizon has since suspended access by Securus and 3C Interactive to location information on Verizon customers provided through LocationSmart.

After a former Missouri sheriff deputy was indicted for, among other things, tracking the cell phones of numerous persons, including some state troopers, without the benefit of a court order, Wyden asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate the wireless carriers that allow law enforcement to have “unrestricted access to the location data” of their customers.

The senator also wrote similar letters to US wireless carriers asking them to "take proactive steps to prevent the unrestricted disclosure and potential abuse of private customer data.”

In addition to an FCC investigation of Securus and other companies like it, the ACLU called for the commission to take additional steps to compel telecommunications providers to “adequately safeguard data from this type of abuse.” 

Wyden praised AT&T and Verizon for taking quick action. “While @Verizon & @ATT have now pledged to stop selling customer location data to shady middlemen, @TMobile & @sprint seem content to keep selling customers' private information, Americans' privacy be damned,” in a portion of a statement, Wyden tweeted Tuesday.

"Until now, almost all of the recent news about the sale of private data has been focused on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Verizon's announcement highlights the fact that private user data is captured by multiple technology companies," said Dan Goldstein, author of “Win with Multi-Channel Digital Marketing” and president of Page 1 Solutions. 

"Your smartphone tracks everywhere you go as well as everyone you call or text. Your browser tracks everything you do on your computer. Verizon is learning from Facebook's mistakes by getting out in front of this issue,” said Goldstein. “It begs the question, however, about what other private data they have been capturing and selling and also demonstrates that many other tech companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, as well as ISP providers like AT&T and Comcast among others may have sold private user data without consent. Consumers need to be aware of this and tech companies need to be transparent about what private user data they collect and what they do with it.”

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