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Verizon Pulls Plug on Third-Party Data-Sharing Program

Verizon has said it will stop sharing its users location information with two third party location aggregators who had been sharing it with their corporate clients.

That came in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who called on other wireless companies to follow suit.

"Following an investigation by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., into the shady practice of wireless carriers selling Americans’ location to third parties – sometimes without permission – Verizon pledged to end its contacts with these “location aggregators," Wyden's office said.

Wyden found that a prison phone company, Securus, a client of one of those third-party location aggregators, was allowing law-enforcement to track phones.

“Verizon deserves credit for taking quick action to protect its customers’ privacy and security,” Wyden said in a statement.

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

Related: NYT Says Facebook Shared Data with Device Makers

Verizon said its "location aggregator program" had allowed those two third-party vendors to share "coarse" location info with their clients only under specific conditions, only with the customers' consent, and mostly for things like fraud detection and call routing.

In the case of one of those clients, Securus, Verizon said as soon as it determined the data was being used for unauthorized purposes, the company's access to that customer info was blocked through one of those two third-party vendors, LocationSmart (the other was Zumigo).

After taking another look at the location aggregator program," Verizon has decided to terminate it. Verizon says that will take some time given the beneficial services those third parties have been providing.

Wyden pointed out that the FCC announced an investigation into the LocationSmart leak last month. But since FCC chairman Ajit Pai represented Securus in 2012 (he was a partner in the Jenner & Block law firm), Wyden requested that Pai recuse himself from the investigation.

D.C. has been focused on data privacy and third-party sharing in the wake of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica investigations and hearings.