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13 January 2019, 05:24 | Joann Bryant
U.S. cell carriers are probably still selling your real-time phone location data
But those assurances are unlikely to dissuade privacy hawks in Congress who've always been critical of the way companies such as T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint appear to exert few controls over how private phone data is handled once its sold off in bulk to "middlemen" companies, which serve among others, marketing firms, emergency services, and, apparently, bounty hunters.
In a statement on Thursday, AT&T said: "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", adding: "We are immediately eliminating the remaining services and will be done in March". T-Mobile chief executive John Legere tweeted at the time that he "personally evaluated the issue" and promised that the company "will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen".
According to Google, as soon as it heard about T-Mobile and Sprint's predilection toward selling location data to location aggregators, the company demanded that the two carriers stop selling data related to Project Fi customers. After this most recent incident revealed that T-Mobile has a relationship with Zumigo, Legere said the company will end relationships with third-party location aggregators by March. We're doing it the right way to avoid impacting consumers who use these types of services for things like emergency assistance. Once those agreements are over, Verizon won't sell any location data, and will only share people's whereabouts to roadside assistance organizations with subscribers' permission, it is claimed.
"Wireless carriers are promising, yet again, to stop sharing Americans' location data without their consent". Now the company says it will also end those sales in March.
"I don't expect this FCC, which has done just about everything that AT&T and Verizon has asked for, will engage in a serious enforcement action here", she said. T-Mobile's initial promise in June 2018 did not specify an end date.
Until carriers cut ties with data aggregation companies like Zumigo, or until the United States introduces legislation that prevents the selling of this data, this harmful practice will likely continue as usual. "We are immediately eliminating the remaining services and will be done in March".
Tweeting a response to the Motherboard article, Rosenworcel wrote: "The @fcc needs to investigate. We have followed through on our commitment to terminate aggregation arrangements and provide location information only with the express consent of our customers". "T-Mobile has also blocked access to device location data for any request submitted by Zumigo on behalf of Microbilt as an additional precaution".
"There are entities out there that will sell information about where you are with your cell phone in real time, it's like this: for a few hundred dollars, anyone can pay to figure out where you are within a few hundred meters".
LocationSmart, a company that provided geolocation data on almost any phone in the USA was investigated previous year.
Motherboard described how the data is passed along a chain of private companies. "It's time for the FCC to get its act together". It would at least allow the Commission to investigate the matter with MicroBilt, but with the current government shutdown, unfortunately there is not much that can be done at the very moment - and there's no guarantee this FCC would do that anyway.
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