Sprint Defuses GPS Privacy Media Bomb
By simply talking about it with the press...
Earlier this week Sprint found itself at the center of a privacy firestorm
, after a blogger posted an audio recording
of a Sprint executive discussing a new Sprint portal designed to easily hand off GPS-tracking data to authorities. Whereas some companies simply would have clammed up and cited national security, Sprint decided to address the claims head on and has been talking with all media outlets (and us) about what happened. They've also posted a blog entry
dissecting the original claims that Sprint handed over subscriber data 8 million times in a little over a year:
The comments made by a Sprint corporate security officer during a recent conference have been taken out of context by this blogger. Specifically, the '8 million' figure, which the blogger highlights in his email and blog post, has been grossly misrepresented. The figure does not represent the number of customers whose location information was provided to law enforcement, as this blogger suggests.
Instead, the figure represents the number of individual 'pings' for specific location information, made to the Sprint network as part of a series of law enforcement investigations and public safety assistance requests during the past year. It's critical to note that a single case or investigation may generate thousands of individual pings to the network as the law enforcement or public safety agency attempts to track or locate an individual.
Sprint still hasn't divulged how many unique individuals they've tracked during that time, but is telling bloggers and the press the actual location attempts are in the "thousands," and that they will be releasing additional data. That's a nice change from similar privacy stories of this type, which result in the companies involved clamming up, the paranoid filling in the blanks, and everybody going home angry. Still, it makes sense that privacy advocates are demanding total transparency and guaranteed accountability for the process Sprint's using.
At the same time, people who understand how modern networks (and the NSA) work realize the idea of any real telecom privacy died a long, long time ago.