When the news of the iPhone's location data storage hubbub hit, it brought the concept of user privacy to the front door of the wireless providers. While Apple has since addressed the location data issue with its iPhone devices, the specter of every move being tracked -- and recorded -- by providers still exists.
So much so, in fact, the ACLU has decided to throw its hat into the ring, issuing a call for wireless providers to stop tracking their customers. The edict came to light via an ACLU blog post, one that details their position quite well. Now, it should be noted there a legal ramifications to be considered because of the location data stipulations in the Enhanced 911 statute, but that's not the same thing as AT&T doing it for potential marketing reasons. The details concerning location data in regards to E-911 are, according to Wikipedia, as follows:
Location information is not only transmitted to the call center for the purpose of sending emergency services to the scene of the incident, it is used by the wireless network operator to determine to which PSAP [Public Safety Answering Point] to route the call.
Again, this is not what the ACLU is fighting against. It's obviously important to know where to send emergency response units in relation to 911 calls, but why should the wireless providers be allowed to track and keep a customer's location data?
The ACLU would like to know the same thing:
But the major carriers – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint – don’t just know where we are from moment to moment. They also retain detailed data about our location for extended periods of time, as we learned recently when we received this document in response to our national public records request on how the authorities are using location data. The carriers also readily share the information they gather with government agencies and law enforcement.
Why should they be doing all this?
To strengthen their position, the ACLU's post mentions Verizon and its intention to sell user data to various interested businesses. As a Verizon customer, how does that knowledge sit with you? Should Verizon be allowed to sell the data that shows where you've been for marketing purposes? Or, were you even aware these companies were allowed to do so?
Good thing the oft-maligned ACLU is paying attention, and if more consumers joined the fight, something might actually get changed -- provided these consumers know and/or care about how their wireless provider treats the location data being it collects and stores. To further explain their position, the ACLU as posted an open letter asking for these wireless providers to cease their tracking habits.
To further explain their position, the letter issued the following requests:
At a minimum, you should be keeping your customers informed by:
- Providing your customers with a clear explanation of what information is being kept about their account.
- Informing your customers when and how their account information is being shared with third parties.
- Notifying your customers if their information is ever breached or lost.
You should also be giving your customers control over their personal information by:
- Providing them with an easy way to control how long their personal information is kept.
- In particular, not storing their location data without their explicit affirmative permission.
- Informing them about government demands for their information whenever legally possible.
The ACLU is also asking for consumers to get involved, via an online petition. If you care about your privacy and how the wireless providers track, store and use the location data your phone generates, you should probably pay attention to how the ACLU does in its attempts to disrupt these practices.
The alternative, at least at this point, is to continue on as if your wireless provider is looking out for your best interests and all that location data will be kept private. Of course, that would mean completing ignoring Verizon's stated intentions, but then again, apathy is apparently easier than being concerned.