Verizon recently pledged to stop giving data brokers access to the real-time location of U.S. cellphone users, and now the other big three carriers are following suit.
Verizon first declared it would end sales of such data to third-party brokers — brokers who can then sell that data to others — in a letter to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D). Not long after that announcement, AT&T followed suit. Shortly after that, Sprint and T-Mobile announced they would be doing the same, as the Associated Press reported.
This change will have no affect whatsoever on how users share their location data with apps and services for an improved experience. It’s strictly between carriers and their previous decisions to give data to these third parties.
Not A Time For Celebration
Despite the promising news, there are some caveats. As the AP notes, “none of the carriers said they are getting out of the business of selling location data.” The carriers could all sell this location data directly — none of the companies commented on this possibility.
Also notable: the timeline for these changes are unclear. Verizon Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia told the AP the carrier wants to make sure it doesn’t disrupt “beneficial services” such as fraud prevention and emergency roadside assistance, and the other carriers seem to have the same basic outlook — the changes will be enacted when they’re ensured such services can remain unaffected.
Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all told Wyden they “only allow authorized third parties to access customer location data if the affected customers have given consent or if it is required by law — for instance, a court order.”
Wyden, however, did not receive any answers about how many customers have been tracked (without agreeing to location sharing), and analysts don’t seem to have a handle on just how much location tracking is still happening.