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Verizon Halts Sale of Some Phone-Location Data

June 19, 2018, 3:38 PM UTC
A Verizon Communications Inc. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
A pedestrian checks his mobile phone while walking past a Verizon Wireless store in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Verizon Communications Inc. is scheduled to release earnings data on April 21. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
David Paul Morris — Bloomberg via Getty Images

As Americans become increasingly concerned about the security and privacy of their personal information, Verizon has pledged to stop selling data that lets third parties discern the location of mobile phones.

The sale of such data, which was done through intermediaries, has long been under fire as it allowed third-party companies to track people’s movements without their knowledge or consent. Verizon is the first telecom company to discontinue the sale of this data.

In a letter to Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, the company said roughly 75 third-parties had gotten their hands on customer data via two separate companies, reports the Associated Press.

Geolocation services, as the movement trackers are called, do have some beneficial uses. They allow users to obtain nearby emergency roadside assistance, for example, and are useful in preventing bank fraud. But in the wrong hands, they can allow a hacker to secretly track your location.

The move by Verizon could put pressure on its rivals to follow suit, especially as Wyden continues his very public campaign for the practice to end.

“Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off,” Wyden said in a statement. “In contrast, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint seem content to keep selling their customers’ private information to these shady middle men, Americans’ privacy be damned.”

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.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere, in a Tweet, took issue with Wyden’s statement, saying the company has made the same pledge as Verizon.

There’s more than political pressure to worry about, though. After the revelation that Facebook was selling user personal information to Cambridge Analytica, consumers have been much more interested in what companies are doing with their personal information.