- AT&T and T-Mobile will stop providing the real-time locations of individual U.S. customers to data resellers after a report indicated sensitive personal information is easy to get without informed consent, according to The Wall Street Journal. Their plans follow announcements last year by all four of the biggest mobile carriers in the U.S. — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — to limit data sales.
- AT&T and T-Mobile said they will cut off data access by March, giving them time to adjust for services like emergency roadside assistance. Verizon plans to terminate agreements with four roadside-assistance companies by the end of March.
- Vice Media's tech news website Motherboard last week posted a story saying it paid a bounty hunter to locate a specific T-Mobile handset by using a real-time feed provided to data aggregator Zumigo. Sprint plans to end its contract with Zumigo, alleging the company violated the terms of its contract by sharing customer data with MicroBilt, a credit-reporting company that the bounty hunter used to find the T-Mobile user, the Journal reported.
Location data has underpinned a wide variety of mobile and marketing services, including ad targeting and notices aimed at mobile consumers. But not crossing "the creepy line," as Google executive Eric Schmidt once described the boundary of invading consumer privacy, may become a more prominent issue unless mobile companies can self-regulate their data-sharing policies and practices. Wireless carriers can't provide service without tracking the whereabouts of customers as measured by distance to surrounding cell towers. Mobile apps can obtain even more exact location data from GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals, although smartphone makers have added features that let customers manually limit the sharing of their location data.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) followed the Motherboard report with a renewed call for the Senate to adopt his proposed legislation to ban carriers from selling mobile subscribers' location data, ZDNet reported. Last year, he proposed giving the Federal Trade Commission more extensive power to enforce consumer data protection. Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, and privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo support Wyden's proposed consumer privacy bill. In another sign of growing scrutiny on mobile app data, the city attorney of Los Angeles this month sued IBM's the Weather Company, alleging that its app misled users as to how their information would be used.
Sprint still shares non-personally identifiable location data with Pinsight Media, a mobile data and ad company it sold to InMobi last year. Zumigo CEO Chirag Bakshi, who said his company cut off MicroBilt's access to cellphone locations after the Mortherboard story, will use app-based data collection that's approved by end users. Most of Zumigo's clients seek consent by sending consumers text messages, he told The Wall Street Journal.