Thursday, 17 January, 2019

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

AT&T says it’ll stop selling location data amid calls for federal investigation AT&T signage is displayed at 17th Street and Avenue of the Americas in New York. Stephen Yang
Orlando Vargas | 13 January, 2019, 17:29

And they are right - what mobile operators are doing with our location data endangers not only consumer privacy, but also personal safety and USA national security. 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 USA government shutdown, it is a virtual certainly that he will continue his pro-telco agenda and stay away from the issue. Fast forward to this month, and journalist Joe Cox was able to pay a bounty hunter $300 to have someone's T-Mobile US phone number tracked and located - through the exact same location reselling system that had previously been exposed. However, the details were identical: it was an approved third party that purchased subscribers' location records from a carrier, and through a chain of organizations, sold that private location data to pretty much anyone willing to pay it: from auto salespeople, stalkers, and property managers to criminals, bounty hunters, and private investigators, potentially.

"Last year we stopped most location aggregation services while maintaining some that protect our customers, such as roadside assistance and fraud prevention", AT&T said in a statement provided to Ars today. "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. The firm received the data from a location "aggregator" called Zumigo, which had in turn purchased it directly from T-Mobile. Ron Wyden of Oregon.

AT&T and T-Mobile say they'll stop handing over your cell phone location data to third parties after a report found the information could end up for sale on the black market.

After Wyden called T-Mobile CEO John Legere out on Twitter for failing to live up to a promise he made in June, Legere responded and said he keeps his word. For example, firms use location data to perform real-time background checks to combat financial fraud and for roadside assistance to reach drivers potentially in emergency situations. "We have previously stated that we are terminating the agreements we have with third party data aggregators and we are almost finished with that process", the company wrote in a statement.

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Verizon says that it ended its agreement with Zumigo before the original report came out this week. But the carrier told The Verge it was at least ending a contract it had with location data aggregator Zumigo, which had been selling the information to MicroBilt.

"The FCC must take immediate action to ensure no wireless carrier is allowing the rampant disclosure of real-time location data, and take enforcement action against carriers that violated the Commission's rules and the trust of their customers", Pallone said.

Harris called on the Federal Communications Commission to immediately open an investigation. "That's not right. This entire ecosystem needs oversight". "Major carriers pledged to end these practices, but it appears to have been more empty promises to consumers", Wyden wrote in a tweet. "We have followed through on our commitment to terminate aggregation arrangements and provide location information only with the express consent of our customers". 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.

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