Beware! Phone Companies May Be Selling Your Location Data

All you need to track any phone’s location is a small bribe

U.S. cell carriers are probably still selling your real-time phone location data

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has been pushing mobile providers to end location-data sales.

And that would've been that - until it wasn't.

It's not hard to get learn the location of nearly any phone, according to a new report.

The investigation chronicled a journalist hiring a bounty hunter to track down their cell phone location using telecom data.

But "aggregation" companies specializing in selling location data are passing it onward "at a profit, and with minimal oversight", Motherboard reported.

Everyone seemed to drop the ball. While this in and of itself isn't a new development, Motherboard reveals that this location data far too often ends up in the hands of bounty hunters who are willing to give up an individual's location for the right price. Microbilt is known to sell phone data to countless types of businesses, including landlords and auto salesmen. That's because it isn't the first time United States carriers have pledged to safeguard their customers' location data.

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Wyden, widely regarded as Washington's leading lawmaker on matters where privacy and security intersect, circulated draft legislation late previous year to combat this issue specifically.

In characteristic fashion, T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted Tuesday that his firm would be "completely ending location aggregator work" in March.

It's hard to see how that isn't, in hindsight, a downright lie.

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". Apparently, major telecommunication providers are selling geolocation "services" to a number of private companies, and those services end up being resold on the black market without their knowledge.

It wasn't just T-Mobile.

According to Google, as soon as it heard about T-Mobile and Sprint's predilection toward selling location data to location aggregators, the company demanded that the two carriers stop selling data related to Project Fi customers.

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Sprint said it does not "knowingly share personally identifiable geo-location information except with customer consent or in response to a lawful request such as a validated court order from law enforcement".

"T-Mobile has also blocked access to device location data for any request submitted by Zumigo on behalf of Microbilt as an additional precaution", they added.

'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, ' an AT&T spokesman told PCMag.

It remains unclear if Sprint will take the same steps and pull the plug on the data sharing. But that doesn't mean it's off the hook. "This information could be obtained by anyone: a stalker, an ex, or a child predator", Democrat Sen.

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. And yet there's no way to opt out - shy of a legislative fix - given that two-thirds of the USA population aren't going to switch to a carrier that doesn't sell your location data.

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