Wireless carriers vow to stop selling customers' location data to third parties

Andrew Cummings
January 13, 2019

An AT&T spokesperson told The Washington Post that in light of the report, they are immediately eliminating all dealings with location aggregation services - even ones with clear consumer benefits. It will end in March, as planned and promised.' For what it's worth, Legere this past summer said that T-Mobile would stop selling 'customer location data to shady middlemen'.

For more context, last year, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint sold data to LocationSmart, a Location-as-a-Service company, which in turn sold this information to prison technology firm Securus via a broker, 3Cinteractive.

The sensitive data was available because AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint sell the information to third-party "location aggregator", PCMag reported.

Tweet from T Mobile CEO John Legere says that T Mobile plans on ending sales of its customers real-time location data to third party firms in March
Tweet from T Mobile CEO John Legere says that T Mobile plans on ending sales of its customers real-time location data to third party firms in March

Amid increasing pressure from federal lawmakers, three of the major U.S. wireless carriers announced plans to end the sale of location data sharing after a report by Motherboard showed just how easy it was for a bounty hunter to track a reporter's phone.

After repeat questions on what that actually meant, a few days later T-Mobile US clarified that it was "winding down our location aggregation agreements".

"Wireless carriers are promising, yet again, to stop sharing Americans' location data without their consent". "I think there should be a federal law that respects California and other state laws but adds to them and creates financial penalties for when companies violate your trust and sell your information against your will". While T-Mobile does not have a direct relationship with Microbilt, our vendor Zumigo was working with them and has confirmed with us that they have already shut down all transmission of T-Mobile data. However, a recent report by Motherboard discovered that the carriers are still selling location information to these aggregators, opening up the risk that this data could get into the hands of bad actors. "T-Mobile has also blocked access to device location data for any request submitted by Zumigo on behalf of Microbilt as an additional precaution". However, we've now learned that a different "Securus" - MicroBilt - has been selling phone geolocation services with little oversight to a spread of different private industries.

Harris called on the Federal Communications Commission to immediately open an investigation. She tweeted Tuesday: "The FCC needs to investigate".

The FCC commissioner agreed with her in a tweet, writing that "It shouldn't be that you pay a few hundred dollars to a bounty hunter and then they tell you in real time where a phone is ..."

'We have terminated all other such arrangements, ' the company said in a statement. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about Vice's report.

If Verizon reaches any new data-sharing agreements in the future, "we're insisting that customers will have to proactively consent before any location information is shared", Verizon said. As an illustrative example, Joseph Cox of Motherboard managed to track down the real-time location of his friend (who was a willing participant in the experiment) for just $300. "It's time for the FCC to get its act together". The bottom line is that the Ajit Pai FCC could easily address this problem using the authority it has now, they've just chosen not to because it might just hurt telecom revenues. The FCC is closed because of the government shutdown.

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