AT&T Inc. and Sprint Corp. pledged to stop selling the locations of individual customers to two middlemen amid accusations that one of the firms mishandled the information. AT&T and Verizon now say they will stop selling data to these third-party brokers. But despite Wyden's best efforts to figure out how this illicit market in location data works, Verizon refused to name the other third parties that have been granted access to users' location data, noting only that another 75 companies had sub-contracted with the two companies.
AT&T, in a letter to Wyden, said they only allow authorized third parties to access the data when customers have given consent or when forced to via a court order. 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.
Senator Wyden wrote a letter to each of the four major USA carriers, asking them questions related to their practice of selling customers' location data.
"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", said Verizon chief privacy officer Karen Zacharia.More news: European Union to begin counter trade tariffs against USA on Friday
Shares of Verizon were up 2.2 percent at $48.49 in afternoon trading.
Wyden asked the carriers to identify which third parties have been acquiring carrier location data and to provide details such as any third-party sharing of location data without customer consent.
"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. 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. And as the Location Smart and Securus scandal proved, that data isn't always all that anonymous, and can routinely be abused.
Location data from Verizon and other carriers makes it possible to identify the whereabouts of almost any phone in the US within seconds.More news: Militant groups will be flushed out of J&K: Rajnath
"It's positive that the carriers have taken steps to halt the sharing of customers' location information with third party data brokers".
"We're trying to do with right thing for our customers", he said. AT&T quickly followed suit, while Sprint and T-Mobile made their announcements later in the day. And, of course, there is no guarantee that Verizon and AT&T won't set up a new program once the dust has settled and start selling user location data all over again.
"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 in a statement Tuesday. T-Mobile has offered to buy Sprint for $26.5 billion.
Analysts say it's hard to gauge the size of the location-tracking aggregation market.More news: North Korea's Kim hails 'unity' with China in new visit