Verizon customers' smartphones will soon quit being snitches. The Associated Press reports that the company plans to stop selling location data to third-party companies, such as LocationSmart and Zumigo, which in turn sell that data to dozens of other companies, "as soon as possible."
Most people know their smartphones are monitoring their every move. Yet relatively few knew that wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T and Sprint sell that location data to brokers, effectively knocking over the first domino in a series of transactions involving their personal info. That changed in May, when it was revealed that anyone could access real-time location data about any phone in the U.S., thanks to LocationSmart.
This leak was particularly worrisome because consumers have no way of stopping companies like LocationSmart and Zumigo from collecting this information. It's much like the Equifax data breach that put hundreds of millions of Americans' personal data at risk even though most probably had no idea the company was collecting their info to begin with. Wireless carriers, not their customers, decide if these companies are given data.
Verizon is the first U.S. wireless carrier to announce plans to break ties with these data brokers. The Associated Press said the company wrote a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who often advocates for improved privacy and security, announcing its plans to stop working with LocationSmart and other data brokers. It will continue to offer data to fraud prevention and other security-focused companies, however.
It's also important to note that Verizon said it will terminate its arrangements with data brokers "as soon as possible." That leaves the company a lot of wiggle room - it could have signed multi-year agreements with these data brokers, for example, or it could face technical difficulties along the way. Verizon's proclamations are the first step, not the last, to making sure access to its customers' data will be more carefully regulated.
Now we'll just have to see if AT&T, Sprint and other North American wireless carriers follow Verizon's lead. They probably don't want to let the company advertise itself as the only carrier that doesn't sell your location information to data brokers. It's bad enough that they have to watch the "Can you hear me now?" guy roast their network availability. Being known as a company that enables smartphones to be snitches is an even worse look.