FCC tries to confirm carriers stopped selling phone location data

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You can’t escape your phone company tracking you, but the FCC can make them stop selling the information.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The CEOs of the big four US wireless carriers were asked by an FCC commissioner whether they’ve stopped selling their customers’ real-time location data, as they had promised to do.

Published reports in recent months indicated that the locations of Americans were being sold without their permission of even knowledge.

One company is always tracking you

Wireless phone companies are always tracking their customers. They don’t always have the exact location, but knowing which cell towers a phone is connected to reveals the general area.

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile used to sell this information to aggregators like Zumigo and Microbilt. These would turn around and sell the data piecemeal to other businesses and individuals. From there, it could leak out to the point where a small bribe could get the location of any phone.

After negative publicity, the big four carriers promised they’d stop selling real-time location data of their subscribers. Verizon says it has already ended this practice, and AT&T and T-Mobile both said they would do so by March of this year. Sprint is supposed to stop selling customer location data to aggregators by the end of this month.

No more selling real-time location data

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel sent letters to the CEOs of all of the top wireless service providers to ensure they are carrying out their promises.

“Real-time location information is sensitive data deserving the highest level of privacy protection. But it is evident from press reports that this data may have been sold without the explicit consent of consumers and without appropriate safeguards in place,” Rosenworcel told each of the executives.

The commissioner then goes on to request “an update to your efforts.”

A version spokesperson told Motherboard “We followed through with our pledge and have fully terminated our location aggregator arrangements. We’re happy to talk about what we’ve done in this area with the Commissioner.”

It is not yet known how AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile responded to Rosenworcel‘s request.