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

A person's hand holding a smartphone that is displaying a map

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This call revealed that even after the phone companies in the U.S. promised that they would stop selling it, they continued to do same.

Despite the government shutdown, Congress is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to explain why mobile carriers are still selling customer location data. We're doing it the right way to avoid impacting consumers who use these types of services for things like emergency assistance.

All of this comes after Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T promised to end its contracts with aggregation companies.

Worse, Zumigo sold that data on - like LocationSmart did with Securus - to other companies, like Microbilt, a Georgia-based credit reporting company, which in turn sells that data on to other firms that want that data.

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".

Verizon says that it ended its agreement with Zumigo before the original report came out this week.

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In the Motherboard investigation, a reporter gave a bounty hunter $US300 to discover the real-time location of a phone, which was tracked down in Queens, New York by just using its T-Mobile phone number.

The other operators put out similar statements.

Verizon, the only major USA carrier not cited for the most recent problem, said it is working hard to implement commitments made last summer about location aggregation agreements.

Motherboard just posted an article claiming that T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T are selling customer data that ultimately allows individuals to geolocate US phones with nothing but a phone number.

The bounty hunter was successful in tracking the phone through data from a third-party aggregator called Zumigo.

In this case it wasn't Securus but a company called Microbilt. Most saw that as a swift move to prevent third-parties accessing customer location data. According to a blog post from Motherboard's Joseph Cox, these surveillance capabilities are available to individuals and businesses and sometimes sold through word of mouth. On Twitter, Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner for the FCC, called for an investigation into the controversial practice to happen "stat" on January 8 on Twitter. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about Vice's report.

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Cue another round of promises from the mobile networks.

Wyden. who tweeted about the story, said carriers selling customer location data "is a nightmare for national security and the personal safety of anyone with a phone". "We have worked hard to implement the commitments we made last summer about location aggregation arrangements". Yet seven months later, it seems that "winding down" still hadn't started.

All four major USA carriers vowed to stop selling customer location data to third-parties last June in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Verizon, the parent company of TechCrunch, wasn't explicitly cleared from sharing location data with third-parties in Motherboard's report - only that the bounty hunter refused to search for a Verizon number.

Cellular carriers make a small fortune collecting and selling this data, and there's virtually no oversight of the practice.

It was just a year ago when Senator Ron Wyden wrote to the Federal Communications Commission about Securus, a firm that that was offering geolocation of phones to low-level law enforcement without a warrant, thereby jeopardizing cell phone locations of not only inmates, but anyone with a phone number - which is pretty much everyone.

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