"How important has the issue of Web privacy become to wired and wireless surfers? Sprint PCS found out the answer to that question the hard way. A spate of publicity surrounded the disclosure that its customers' mobile identification numbers were transmitted without their knowledge to Internet sites they visited via Sprint's Wireless Web service.
"The privacy issue sprang up last week after Sprint PCS customers reported the phenomenon to a variety of San Francisco Bay area and Internet news outlets. For Sprint, the timing was especially bad: The reports came to light just a week after the giant Internet advertising solutions agency DoubleClick faced a barrage of privacy concerns for unobtrusively gathering information about customers, through user ID information left on Web sites.
"... AirTouch Cellular isn't talking about which mechanism its mobile Internet service uses, except to say it does not disclose user phone numbers to Web site operators. Bell Atlantic Mobile says it creates separate IP addresses for customers using its Web Access service. AT&T Wireless Services uses randomly assigned numbers to identify customers that access Web services from its CDPD PocketNet phones.
"Soon, Sprint will use an alternative approach too. Though it is saying the decision had already been made before last week's privacy snafu, the carrier now says it will convert its Wireless Web procedures to use the random-number method within 30 to 60 days, unless customers specifically want their phone number used. Whether there will be continuing adverse publicity about the issue is unclear.