Telcos promise to stop selling location data, but Congress is not satisfied

All you need to track any phone’s location is a small bribe

One was a report posted yesterday by Motherboard that said AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile were still selling their customers' real-time location data. It will end completely in March.

That sounds a bit rich to some lawmakers, however, who extracted what appeared to be identical promises seven months ago.

After the four largest carriers in the US AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint were found to be selling their consumers' real-time location data previous year, the firms stated they would do away with the practice.

Right now, senators are calling for regulation to ensure that companies are upfront with customers about how their data will be used and sold.

The other operators put out similar statements.

"Microbilt buys access to location data from an aggregator called Zumigo and then sells it to a dizzying number of sectors, including landlords to scope out potential renters; motor vehicle salesmen, and others who are conducting credit checks". Consumers often sign one privacy agreement with their cellular provider, which in turn is then broadly interpreted as a green light down a long road of companies which then collect and sell that data in turn.

Motherboard reporter Joseph Cox wrote, "I gave a bounty hunter a phone number".

The calls come after reports from The New York Times and Vice that provided an alarming look at just how much location data is quietly collected through smartphones, and how that data can be accessed by third parties.

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"What we were told in 2018 is that they would stop selling location data and now we're seeing evidence that it's still happening". Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said in a statement after the Motherboard report was published.

Cue another round of promises from the mobile networks.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has been pushing mobile providers to end location-data sales. The FTC could also probably ding T-Mobile for being "unfair and deceptive" under Section 5 of the FTC act, yet has been similarly mute as carriers bullshit their way around their failures on this front.

Following this week's outcry, Legere repeated the same argument as months earlier, and claimed that his telco was "doing it the right way to avoid impacting consumers". 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.

While they didn't test the other companies, Microbilt's product documentation suggested it would work on AT&T and Verizon as well as T-Mobile.

A year ago we stopped most location aggregation services while maintaining some that protect our customers, such as roadside assistance and fraud prevention.

Motherboard also reached out to Zumigo, the company who sold T-Mobile user data to Microbilt in the first place.

In Motherboard's case, they were able to pay a source $300 to get a device's location data that was accurate within a few hundred meters. The partnerships can power services such as bank fraud prevention and emergency roadside assistance in addition to online ads and marketing deals, which depend on knowing your whereabouts. Last time around, FCC boss Ajit Pai refused to investigate the matter, and while there has been no response from Pai on the renewed calls for an investigation thanks to the partial United States government shutdown, it is a virtual certainly that he will continue his pro-telco agenda and stay away from the issue.

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