AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint seek to make amends over location breach

Irving Hamilton
January 13, 2019

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

However, carriers haven't said they'll completely stop selling or sharing data, even touting the benefits of this practice to consumers.Not all brokers engage in shady behavior; in fact, some of the services consumers rely on for protection use this data. 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.

T-Mobile's CEO John Legere confirmed in a tweet that they are ending the location aggregator work.

Motherboard reported that major USA wireless carriers T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint have been selling the location data of its customers in an unregulated market in which Americans' personal information travels through several layers of third-party entities that buy the location data but are not authorized to handle such information.

"I'm extraordinarily troubled by reports of this system of repackaging and reselling location data to unregulated third-party services for potentially nefarious purposes", Sen.

AT&T told CNET that its March cut off date was to ensure legitimate services would have time to transition.

All of this comes after Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T promised to end its contracts with aggregation companies.

Earlier this week, AT&T said it "only permit [s] sharing of location when a customer gives permission for cases like fraud prevention or emergency roadside assistance or when required by law". 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 U.S. 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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It would be hard for a stalker or a suspicious boyfriend to get access to a phone's geolocation data through one of the aggregators, as they have company policies that prevent this.

The bounty hunter was successful in tracking the phone through data from a third-party aggregator called Zumigo.

And T-Mobile US's Legere told Senator Wyden to his face that he would end the practice of selling location data through third parties.

Seven months later, Motherboard found that public outrage was enough to get carriers to examine who they passed data off too, but not enough for them to stop the practice; in a test, a bounty hunter was able to track down a participating reporter's location using data from Zumigo, another major Location-as-a-Service company, that was acquired by Microbilt, a credit reporting company. He said Congress should advance his legislation that would grant the FTC greater authority to safeguard consumer data and fine companies for privacy and security violations.

Frank Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce committee, asked FCC Chair Ajit Pai for an "emergency briefing" on why the agency hasn't stopped wireless carriers from selling customer's real-time location information.

I take this seriously. "Over the past few months, as we committed to do, we have been shutting down everything else".

Recent revelations about companies that traffic in personal location data - and how easy that information can be acquired for a few hundred dollars - have led to renewed calls for the regulation of the collection and sale of such data.

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