Last month, a report indicating that Securus-a company that provides smartphone tracking tools for USA law enforcement-was hacked, with thousands of pieces of data including account credentials leaked. In a letter of its own, the carrier said it had ended its contract with LocationSmart and Zumigo after learning the companies were giving location data to law enforcement without customers' consent. In an email to the AP, AT&T spokesman Jim Greer cited similar reasons for cutting off the intermediaries "as soon as practical".
Verizon announced it would be suspending all data sales to location data brokers like LocationSmart and Zumigo, which the company acknowledged sold that data in turn to a roster of more than 75 different companies. LocationSmart provides data only at the instant it is requested by a service like roadside assistance and user consent has been obtained.
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Leveraging location-based data is an increasingly popular tactic marketers use to target consumers with tailored ads, messages and offers, but all four major US carriers backing off some of their data sharing practices shows how privacy concerns are looming larger over the space, along with the presence of potentially bad actors. Data Brokers are organizations that provide the same data to third-party companies which are likely to use the data for non-privacy-friendly purposes. Verizon's Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia noted to the AP that the practice is important for "beneficial services" like fraud prevention and emergency roadside assistance.
Just ask U.S. carriers Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, who have all now pledged to stop selling customer location data to third-party brokers. T-Mobile's CEO John Legere also tweeted that his company will not sell customer location details to "shady middlemen" in response to a Twitter post by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who asked the Federal Communications Commission last month to launch a probe on the wireless carriers following Securus' potential privacy violation.
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Sprint said account holders must "generally be notified" if the data is to be used so they can decide whether they consent. CNN is a unit of AT&T.
"It's positive that the carriers have taken steps to halt the sharing of customers' location information with third party data brokers. But, the Securus revelations shined a powerful light on a major privacy gap that must still be addressed", Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement to CNNMoney.
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"The government and companies need to investigate the systemic failures that led to the improper access, provide customers with information regarding how and to whom their information has been shared, and ensure that customer data is not improperly shared with other entities".