Representatives Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Tex) communicated with four major wireless carriers in March to determine “how and why they track mobile location data” (Pepitone). Verizon revealed that it keeps location data for seven years, Sprint revealed that it keeps it for three years, and AT&T stores it for somewhere between a few days and five years. T-Mobile was the only company that didn’t disclose a timeframe.
Not much to anyone’s surprise, this has created a wave of uneasiness. In their letters to Congress, the companies pinned third-party applications “as the culprit” for storing the data. Markey “said the carriers’ responses left him with a feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty…the disconnect is when third-party applications come into play” (Pepitone). This seems to suggest that regardless of the carriers’ efforts to solve the tracking issue, third-party applications could still be the reason consumers’ locations are being tracked and stored.
On a positive note, Verizon and Apple seem to have been making noticeable strides toward solving this problem. Verizon said it plans to put warning labels on its products. The disclaimer would inform the user that the device can determine its (and the user’s) “physical and geographical location and can associate this location date with other customer information.” The label also suggests that the user refer to the User Guide for Location settings to “limit access to location information by others.” It also warns users to be careful when downloading and accessing applications.
Apple “has been cleaning up the PR mess” as well. British researchers launched an open source application that allowed Apple’s customers to see the location data stored on their iPhones and 3G iPads. It also “released a 10-part Q&A and statement on Wednesday admitting to a lack of transparency” (Pepitone). Apple promised to release a software update that would fix “a ‘bug’ that retained data for more than a year instead of the intended few days” (Pepitone).
The good news is that some of the major carriers are acknowledging and trying to solve the issue of location tracking. The not-so-good news is that we’re still in the very early stages of finding an effective solution and we’ve still got a ways to go. In the meantime, it might not be a bad idea to check the security settings on your phone.