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.
For years wireless cell carriers have sold off consumer location data to everyone from urban planners to marketers without much in the way of oversight.
After prompting from a US senator, Verizon (VZ +2.5%) says it's ending a location-sharing program that resulted in at least one partner company sharing subscriber location without consent.
In a statement to CNNMoney, an AT&T spokesperson said, "Our top priority is to protect our customers' information, and, to that end, we will be ending our work with aggregators for these services as soon as practical in a way that preserves important, potential lifesaving services like emergency roadside assistance".
Which sounds good until you consider that the fact that there is clear evidence that the opposite is true and user location data is being freely sold without any such consent. He said Zumigo does not let its customers resell the location data and hopes to renegotiate with the carriers. Verizon is the first telecom company to discontinue the sale of this data. Wyden that it "requires internal approval of every service provider and use, including the mechanism by which the service provider will obtain customer consent before any location information is shared with partners and service providers". Following that revelation, KrebsOnSecurity reported that major location aggregator LocationSmart offered access to track any American's mobile phone via an insecure website.
But the senator rebuked AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint for continuing the practice.
Sprint said account holders must "generally be notified" if the data is to be used so they can decide whether they consent.
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Days later, a Carnegie Mellon University security researcher discovered a security flaw in LocationSmart's website that could have allowed any reasonably sophisticated hacker to secretly track nearly any phone in the US or Canada.
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 two largest USA wireless carrier announced the move in response to a plea from Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon.
"It's positive that the carriers have taken steps to halt the sharing of customers' location information with third party data brokers".
Securus didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wyden praised Verizon's move, which came after Wyden revealed that prison phone company Securus was allowing law-enforcement agencies to track Americans' phones without reviewing the requests. "We stand-by that commitment to our customers".
That still leaves T-Mobile and Sprint that continue to sell location data under the same program that they already know has been abused. The legislator had demanded last month that carriers and the Federal Communications Commission investigate the practice of tracking phones by a company that provides services to prisons and jails.