Sunday, 20 January, 2019

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

Bounty hunters can find you using your location data for a fee of a couple hundred dollars Bounty hunters can find you using your location data for a fee of a couple hundred dollars
Laurie Berry | 13 January, 2019, 17:24

'We have terminated all other such arrangements, ' the company said in a statement. An AT&T spokesperson said it no longer supports location aggregation services. "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".

The sensitive data was available because AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint sell the information to third-party "location aggregator", PCMag reported.

"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 to CNET.

The FCC didn't respond to a request for comment.

The announcements reflect a major victory for privacy advocates who have slammed corporate America over its handling of consumers' personal information, often to their personal and economic expense. It will end completely in March. Wyden has found another supporter in the form of Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).

So while broadband giants will surely whine incessantly during the looming quest to pass some meaningful rules of the road, it's worth remembering they had ample opportunities, over decades, to avoid stricter government intervention by adopting better, more ethical business practices.

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Two things gave AT&T the incentive to once again tell consumers that it would not sell real-time location data to third party outfits. "If true, this practice represents a legitimate threat to our personal and national security".

The commission's senior Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel, concurs.

At this time, it appears AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are all selling location information about their customers to aggregators. They also need to educate users on their rights when it comes to data. T-Mobile's initial promise in June 2018 did not specify an end date.

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.

The bill, which had little hope of passing in the Republican-controlled body, would've imposed stiff fines and even criminal penalties on executives who knowingly misled federal regulators about data-handling practices. He sees the new report as another urgent motivation for government action, including an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. On Friday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., commended Pallone for "taking this critical first step towards creating real transparency and oversight of wireless carriers that misuse Americans' data". 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. Thanks to the sale of this data, the location of nearly any smartphone can be found using just the user's phone number. "Over the past few months, as we committed to do, we have been shutting down everything else".

"At least one company, called Microbilt, is selling phone geolocation services with little oversight to a spread of different private industries, ranging from vehicle salesmen and property managers to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, according to sources familiar with the company's products and company documents obtained by Motherboard", Cox wrote.

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