Expect to peel off one more warning sticker when you buy an iPhone from Verizon Wireless. In a letter dated April 19, 2011, and addressed to U.S. congressmen Ed Markey and Joe Barton, Verizon detailed the processes it uses to protect customer privacy and revealed plans to begin adhering the warning sticker pictured here to any new device capable of tracking its owner's location.
In March, in response to a New York Times article describing how a German mobile phone company tracked one of its customers, Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, contacted the four major wireless carriers in the U.S. for explanations about how and why mobile location data would be tracked and used. The congressmen, co-Chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, published the four companies' responses on April 28.
Each carrier admitted to storing device location data for some amount of time -- from a few days to several years -- and all offered safeguards and disclosures detailing how personally identifying customer information is secured. However, the carriers could not guarantee the privacy of location data within third party applications, prompting Verizon to suggest its warning label.
Mobile customer privacy concerns exploded into a hot topic about two weeks ago when researchers announced the existence of a file in iOS 4 containing a history of the device's approximate location over time -- which turned out, according to Apple, to merely represent WiFi hotspots and cell towers up to 100 miles from the actual phone location. Although Apple's "locationgate" began after Verizon designed its warning labels, the wireless carrier's letter and forthcoming sticker are a coincidentally timely response to the growing brouhaha about consumer privacy and mobile devices.