AT&T, Verizon say they'll stop sharing location data with third-party brokers

AT&T, Verizon say they'll stop sharing location data with third-party brokers
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Verizon and AT&T announced Tuesday that they will no longer sell location data to third-party aggregators after revelations that the information was being used to track cellphone users without their knowledge.

The announcements come after pressure from Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Microsoft to provide free updates for voting systems running Windows 7 through 2020 Interior watchdog investigating political appointees' review of FOIA requests MORE (D-Ore.), who wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last month asking the agency to investigate Securus Technologies Inc., a firm that handles phone calls from jails and prisons. Wyden said the company was not properly vetting law enforcement requests for location data provided by national wireless providers.

The scrutiny also follows last month's news that another firm, LocationSmart, inadvertently exposed consumer location data on its website due to a software bug.

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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.

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

Michael Balmoris, a spokesman for AT&T, issued a similar statement.

“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,” he said.

In a tweet Tuesday, Wyden praised the companies for abandoning the practices, and he criticized the other two major national wireless carriers.

“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,” the senator wrote.

On Tuesday, T-Mobile CEO John Legere said on Twitter that it too had ended partnerships with data aggregators.

"Sounds like word hasn’t gotten to you, @ronwyden," Legere wrote. "I’ve personally evaluated this issue & have pledged that @tmobile will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen. Your consumer advocacy is admirable & we remain committed to consumer privacy."

Lisa Belot, a spokeswoman for Sprint, said in a statement to The Hill that the company is reviewing its data-sharing practices.

"While we continue to review the facts and determine next steps, as of May 25th we have suspended all services with LocationSmart," Belot said. "Our ongoing internal review also includes our relationship with Zumigo and, if warranted, we will take additional action."

The FCC is investigating the LocationSmart incident, but Wyden has called on the agency to expand the probe and for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to recuse himself because of his work for Securus as a private sector attorney in 2012.

“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. “If your location information falls into the wrong hands, you – or your children – can be vulnerable to predators, thieves and a whole host of people who would use that knowledge to malicious ends.”

An FCC spokesperson dismissed Wyden's call for Pai's recusal.

“Chairman Pai is in full compliance with the law and applicable rules," the spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. "As such, there is no reason for Chairman Pai to recuse himself, and he will not be doing so.”