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Verizon a trailblazer

Verizon is pledging to stop sales through intermediaries of data that pinpoints the location of mobile phones to outside companies, the Associated Press has learned.

It is the first major U.S. wireless carrier to step back from a business practice that has drawn criticism for endangering privacy. The data has allowed outsiders to track wireless devices without their owners' knowledge or consent.

Verizon, the nation's largest mobile carrier measured by subscribers, said that about 75 companies have obtained its customer data from two little-known California-based brokers that it supplies directly — LocationSmart and Zumigo.

The company made its disclosure in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has been probing the phone location-tracking market. Last month, Wyden revealed abuses in the lucrative but loosely regulated field involving Securus Technologies and its affiliate 3C Interactive. Verizon says their contract was approved only for the location tracking of outside mobile phones called by prison inmates.

After a thorough review of its program, Verizon notified LocationSmart and Zumigo, both privately held, that it intends to "terminate their ability to access and use our customers' location data as soon as possible," wrote Verizon's chief privacy officer, Karen Zacharia.

Though Verizon is ending sales to brokers, Verizon stopped short of ending the practice completely. Zacharia said the company would be careful not to disrupt "beneficial services" such as fraud prevention and would "work with these aggregators to ensure a smooth transition for these beneficial services to alternative arrangements so as to minimize the harm to customers and end users."

In the interim, Verizon will not authorize any new uses of the location data, she said.



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