Amid increasing pressure from federal lawmakers, three of the major U.S. 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. "Over the past few months, as we committed to do, we have been shutting down everything else", AT&T said in a statement.
In a report Tuesday, Motherboard reporter Joseph Cox described the process he had used to acquire the location data of a mobile phone from a source in the bail bond industry. 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. "We are immediately eliminating the remaining services and will be done in March". We're ending this location aggregator work the right way - avoiding the impact consumers who use these types of services for things like emergency assistance.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has criticized the privacy practices of Facebook and other companies that collect massive quantities of user data, said the report highlights how customers and policymakers "have been kept in the dark" about the ways personal information is gathered, repackaged and sold. But they already missed the June 2018 deadline (via ArsTechnica). Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a statement.
After the four largest carriers in the US AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint were found to be selling their consumers' real-time location data a year ago, the firms stated they would do away with the practice.
Verizon says that it ended its agreement with Zumigo before the original report came out this week.
While there is money to be made and no law preventing it, it is a virtual certainty that AT&T and others will figure out a way to profit from selling their customers' private data.
"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", a T-Mobile spokesperson told Ars this week.
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 past 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".
"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. "We have followed through on our commitment to terminate aggregation arrangements and provide location information only with the express consent of our customers". "It will end in March, as planned and promised", he wrote in a tweet. "That's not right. This entire ecosystem needs oversight".
The investigation led to outcries from senators who demanded the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) look into the matter.
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