The brouhaha over what tech companies are doing with your personal information — particularly your location — come to a head, of sorts.
Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have all vowed to end agreements to share the whereabouts of American consumers with data brokers.
AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile & Sprint: No more location-data sharing
The move comes after lawmakers learned that corrections agencies have been using vendors to spy on Americans. A particularly egregious case that caught the attention of Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, was that of a former Missouri sheriff who used a company that primarily monitors prison calls to allegedly track a judge and five other police officers. The company, Securus Technologies, got their data from wireless carriers.
Wyden began an investigation and went public with his inquiries to the tech companies, prompting them to respond in kind.
Verizon’s Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia said this week in a letter sent to Wyden:
“We recognize that location information can provide many pro-consumer benefits. But our review of the location aggregator program has led to a number of internal questions about how best to protect customers’ location data. We will not enter into new location aggregation arrangements unless and until we are comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers’ location data through technological advancements and/or other practices.”
As it stands, all four major wireless carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — have cut off access to Securus and agreed to stop sharing people’s location data, which is a major victory for Americans’ privacy.
UPDATE — less than a day after I made these letters public, every major wireless carrier says they will cut ties with the middlemen who sell your location information. Chalk one up for oversight and accountability getting results for consumers.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) June 20, 2018
Consumers can expect that some location-data sharing will continue, as when your credit card company calls you to confirm an out-of-town purchase due to a fraud alert. Vendors have many corporate customers, as Verizon points out in its letter: “Truck rental companies may use the location data to provide better assistance to customers renting trucks who experience problems on the road.”
Still, privacy is a big issue today after the Facebook data scandal and the recent enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation, which required many tech companies and websites doing business in Europe to overhaul their terms of service. With the AT&T-Time Warner merger, data mining and how these companies use people’s information will continue to be a hot topic.
It’s not all doom and gloom on the telecom front though: Money expert Clark Howard says the seismic changes in the wireless and cable TV marketplace could work out for your wallet. “If you are someone who is willing to embrace alternative opportunities and change, the era we are in will offer you more choice and lower prices,” he says. Here’s how.