Monday, 21 January, 2019

After broken promise, AT&T says it'll stop selling phone location data

All you need to track any phone’s location is a small bribe U.S. cell carriers are probably still selling your real-time phone location data
Ginger Lawrence | 13 January, 2019, 17:23

"In light of recent reports about the misuse of location services, we have made a decision to eliminate all location aggregation services - even those with clear consumer benefits", an AT&T spokesman stated this week.

A T-Mobile spokesperson said the company takes customer privacy and security "very seriously and will not tolerate any misuse of our customers' data". Legere tweeted this week: "T-Mobile is completely ending location aggregator work". "We're shutting it down one by one, making sure consumers who use this for things like health and safety services have a chance to make other arrangements", he tweeted. "It will end in March", Legere added.

US Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote, "This information could be obtained by anyone: a stalker, an ex, or a child predator".

At this time, it appears AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are all selling location information about their customers to aggregators. 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.

"At least one company, called Microbilt, is selling phone geolocation services with little oversight to a spread of different private industries, ranging from auto salesmen and property managers to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, according to sources familiar with the company's products and company documents obtained by Motherboard", Cox wrote.

The other operators put out similar statements. We took immediate action to ensure MicroBilt no longer had access to Sprint location data, and have notified Zumigo that we are immediately terminating our contract.

After paying a bounty hunter's bail bond company $300, Motherboard was provided with a screenshot of the real-time location of a specific phone down to a radius of a few blocks.

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According to Cox, the source claimed to have received the data from a firm called Microbit. We do not knowingly share personally identifiable geo-location information except with customer consent or in response to a lawful request such as a validated court order from law enforcement.

"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".

Following the revelation this month that nothing has changed, Senator Wyden has again called for an FCC investigation, and again argued for a privacy law that would protect United States citizens from having their personal data sold without their permission.

Cue another round of promises from the mobile networks. That vendor bought the data from a fraud prevention data provider, which bought it from T-Mobile.

Ultimately, this is possible because wireless phone companies are always tracking their customers. Verizon said in a statement Thursday that it, too, was winding down its four remaining location-sharing agreements, which are all with roadside assistance services - after that, customers would have to give the company permission to share their data with roadside assistance firms.

Amid increasing pressure from federal lawmakers, three of the major USA 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.

We've noted a few times now that while Facebook gets a lot of justified heat for its privacy scandals, the stuff going on in the cellular data and app market in regards to location data makes many of Facebook's privacy issues seem like a grade-school picnic.