CENT Verizon, AT&T are cutting off location-data sharing contracts - CNET

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Verizon announced it was cutting off its contracts with location aggregators.Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Verizon and AT&T are hanging up on companies that boasted they could track any American with a phone. 

In a letter sent to Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, Verizon's chief privacy officer Karen Zacharia said the company was ending its contracts with location aggregators like LocationSmart and Zumigo. 

"We are committed to protecting the privacy and security of our customers' location information, and will keep you informed as we execute our plan to terminate these location-based aggregation arrangements with the aggregators," Zacharia wrote.

Major wireless carriers are allowed to sell real-time location data to third-parties, which is often used for targeted advertising from advertisers. In Verizon's letter, it noted that services like truck rental companies often use location data provided from phones to help customers who have trouble on the road. 

The service allowed people to find anybody using their phone number, tracking them down based on location data that wireless carriers provided. 

But that location data had been abused, where a former Missouri sheriff used Securus Technologies, a service for monitoring calls to prison inmates, to track down a judge and five other police officers. LocationSmart, another aggregating service that sells tracking abilities, suffered a major vulnerability where anybody could use it without proper vetting. 

As Verizon prepares to end its contracts with location aggregators, it said it will not start any new agreements until it feels "comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers' location data," discussing the benefits providing location data can provide if it's not being abused. 

"When these issues were brought to our attention, we took immediate steps to stop it.  Customer privacy and security remain a top priority for our customers and our company," Verizon spokesman Rich Young said in a statement.

LocationSmart and Securus did not respond to a request for comment. 

"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 continuing to sell their customers' private information to these shady middle men, Americans' privacy be damned."

AT&T soon followed after Verizon's actions, canceling its contracts with these trackers.

"Our top priority is to protect our customers' information, and to that end, we will be ending our work with aggregators for these services as soon as practical in a way that preserves important, potential life-saving services like emergency roadside assistance," an AT&T spokesman said.

T-Mobile and Sprint did not respond to a request for comment.  

Roger Cheng also contributed reporting to this story.

Originally published at 9:07 a.m. PT.

Updated at 9:38 a.m. PT: To include statements from AT&T, at 9:49 a.m. PT: To include response from Verizon.

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