Mobile responds to location data scandal, says it’s ‘completely ending’ aggregator work

Roman Schwartz
January 13, 2019

In June, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile pledged to end the practice of selling location data through intermediary companies.

"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", AT&T said in a statement, according to the Daily Inquirer. It will end in March, as planned and promised.' For what it's worth, Legere this past summer said that T-Mobile would stop selling 'customer location data to shady middlemen'. 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.

The sensitive data was available because AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint sell the information to third-party "location aggregator", PCMag reported. He added that T-Mobile is trying to do it "the right way" to avoid affecting consumers who use these services for things like emergency assistance. AT&T also said at the time that it would be maintaining those of its agreements that provided clear consumer benefits, such as location sharing for roadside assistance services.

T-Mobile offered a similar promise, as we noted in an update to our story on Tuesday.

Wyden has called on the FCC to investigate the relationship between wireless carriers and data brokers. "I think that is a problem", Rosenworcel said. As an illustrative example, Joseph Cox of Motherboard managed to track down the real-time location of his friend (who was a willing participant in the experiment) for just $300. 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.

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However, without these rules, the broadband providers are not incentivized to change anything despite their aloof public ideals of prioritizing consumer data privacy - even with Securus previous year and Motherboard's exposé about MicroBilt a few days ago, a representative of T-Mobile's response was that it is only "nearly finished the process of terminating its agreements with location aggregators".

New reporting by Motherboard shows that while companies may have severed ties with LocationSmart, majority overlooked the other big player in the location-tracking business, Zumigo. For instance, AT&T vowed to "protect customer data" and "shut down" Securus's access to its real-time store of customer location data.

Harris called on the Federal Communications Commission to immediately open an investigation.

Tweeting a response to the Motherboard article, Rosenworcel wrote: "The @fcc needs to investigate. The bounty hunter then shared this information with a bail industry source, who shared it with Motherboard". "It's time for the FCC to get its act together". Verizon wasn't flagged as part of the investigation, and says it stopped selling data a long time ago. On Friday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-NJ, asked the FCC to provide the committee's staff with an emergency briefing on the matter. As a result of the ongoing partial shutdown of the US federal government, the FTC was unable to provide a statement.

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