FCC Questions U.S. Carriers on Phone Location Data Sales Practices

The United States Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday sent out letters to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint questioning the carriers about their data selling practices, reports Motherboard.

The carriers have been found selling real-time location information from customer devices to data aggregators, leading the location data to end up in the hands of private investigators, bounty hunters, law enforcement, credit companies, and more.


Companies like LocationSmart and Zumigo obtained location information from U.S.-based cellular carriers and passed that data on to dozens of other companies, putting real-time customer location information in the hands of those who should not have it.

After coming under scrutiny for their location sharing practices, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile, pledged to stop doing so, but many had not actually stopped entirely as of January.

The FCC is now demanding answers from the four carriers. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel asked the heads of each company to provide details on whether the data aggregators were allowed to save phone location data and what steps carriers are going to take to make sure shared data has been deleted. From the letter to AT&T:

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.

Accordingly, I appreciate your decision to end these location aggregation services by March of this year. To that end, I kindly request that you provide an update on your efforts and confirm by what date AT&T ended its arrangements to sell the location data of its customers. Please also confirm whether and by what date the company ended arrangements to sell assisted or augmented GPS data.

Finally, the public still has very little detail about how much geolocation data is being saved and stored-including in ways that may be far too accessible to others. Even de-anonymized location data may be combined with other information in ways that could make it personally identifiable again. Accordingly, please explain whether AT&T's agreements permitted aggregators or others to save and store location data they received from your company. If so, please confirm what steps your company is taking to ensure that these companies delete or destroy previously shared data and any derivative data. Alternatively, please explain what steps AT&T is taking to safeguard such data from use or onward sale that is inconsistent with consumers' original content.

Similar letters were also sent to Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile, and all four carriers have been asked to provide responses to the FCC by May 15, 2019.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
12 months ago
T-Mobile: What? We didn't share any data?
AT&T: Well, we may have sold GPS data to select, trusted partners, but we told them not to share it! Promise!
Verizon: We are shocked, SHOCKED, that any data we collect could be sold on the open market!
Sprint: We're just glad you still consider to include us.

FCC: Thanks! Good enough for us! See ya at the next...uh...dinner.
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
12 months ago
About time, but I doubt anything will come out of the questioning seeing the FCC is headed by Verizon.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
12 months ago
Questioning... the US is so dumb not to protect whistleblowers. This might be the only way to find out what’s really happening.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
12 months ago

In a reasonable world, very public and very expensive penalties are in order for each one them found to be guilty.

This is America son. Land of the free and the home of the even more free if you're a mega corporation with a massive lobbying arm. Any penalty is going to be perfunctory and nothing more than pablum for the masses.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
12 months ago

If "Liberty" is promised, the location of someone not wanted/warranted is not sharable. Selling your location in real-time violates the Fourth Amendment, IMO. IANAL.

The Constitution only regulates the activity of the government, so a company with whom you choose to do business selling your information is not covered by the 4th amendment.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
12 months ago
Rather an irony that one branch of the US government, the FCC, is supposedly all in a fluff over data sharing by the four big carriers, while another branch, the NSA, after having been exposed in spying on American people with aplomb by Edward Snowden six years ago, is merrily continuing its own snooping policies unabated. Snowden, meanwhile, is exiled and wanted for exposing the corruption. The FCC is less a regulative agency for the carriers than it is an enabler; the NSA no longer protects its citizenry from foreign enemy spying, but treats its own citizens as an enemy which must be spied upon.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

New Low-Cost 'iPhone SE' Could Launch as Soon as Tomorrow

Thursday April 2, 2020 4:06 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Apple's new low-cost iPhone is set to launch as early as Friday, April 3, according to a new report from 9to5Mac that cites a tip from a "highly trusted reader." The site says that while it can't be certain about the launch date, "Apple could reveal and begin taking orders for the new iPhone as soon as tomorrow." The iPhone 8 Apple is said to be planning to call the new iPhone, which is...

Apple's 2020 MacBook Air vs. 2020 iPad Pro

Wednesday April 1, 2020 2:45 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Apple in March updated both the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro, and with the iPad Pro increasingly positioned as a computer replacement, we thought we'd compare both new machines to see how they measure up and which one might be a better buy depending on user needs. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. We're comparing the base model 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the base model...

AirTags Referenced in New Apple Support Video

Thursday April 2, 2020 12:12 pm PDT by Joe Rossignol
Apple has accidentally referenced its widely rumored AirTags item tracking tags in a video that it uploaded to its Apple Support channel on YouTube today. The video was first spotted by the blog Appleosophy and has quickly been removed. The video was titled "How to erase your iPhone." AirTags were mentioned in Settings > Apple ID > Find My > Find My iPhone under Enable Offline Finding, with...

Intel Unveils 10th-Gen Processors Suitable for Next 16-Inch MacBook Pro With Wi-Fi 6 and Turbo Boost Speeds Above 5GHz

Thursday April 2, 2020 7:53 am PDT by Joe Rossignol
Intel today announced the launch of its latest 10th-generation Core processors for high-end notebooks, potentially including the next 16-inch MacBook Pro. The batch of 45W chips, part of the Comet Lake family, are built on Intel's 14nm++ architecture. The new H-series chips have the same base clock speeds as the 9th-generation chips in the current 16-inch MacBook Pro, but Turbo Boost speeds...

Apple Paid Hacker $75,000 for Uncovering Zero-Day Camera Exploits in Safari

Friday April 3, 2020 3:58 am PDT by Tim Hardwick
Apple paid out $75,000 to a hacker for identifying multiple zero-day vulnerabilities in its software, some of which could be used to hijack the camera on a MacBook or an iPhone, according to Forbes. A zero-day vulnerability refers to a security hole in software that is unknown to the software developer and the public, although it may already be known by attackers who are quietly exploiting...

Apple Offers Employees Deep Discounts on HomePod, Beats Headphones and More

Friday April 3, 2020 11:14 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple is offering employees significant discounts on products that include the HomePod and Beats headphones, according to details on the deals shared by MacGeneration and 9to5Mac. Apple is said to be clearing stock of Beats headphones and HomePods, providing them to employees through an internal deals program. The HomePod is available at a 50 percent discount, dropping the price to $149.50,...

iPhone 8 Screen Protector Updated With 'iPhone SE' Compatibility on Apple's Online Store

Thursday April 2, 2020 8:10 pm PDT by Joe Rossignol
Another clue has surfaced to suggest that Apple's rumored lower-cost iPhone SE successor will likely be released soon. Earlier today, a product listing for a Belkin screen protector on Apple's online store was updated to reflect compatibility with not only the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8, but also the iPhone SE. Given the original iPhone SE was a 4-inch device, and the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 are...

Apple Adding Some 2013 and 2014 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro Models to Vintage Products List at End of April

Wednesday April 1, 2020 2:24 pm PDT by Joe Rossignol
In an internal memo obtained by MacRumors, Apple has indicated that the following 2013 and 2014 models of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro will be added to its vintage and obsolete products list on April 30:MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2013) MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2013) MacBook Air (11-inch, Early 2014) MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2014) MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2014)Apple defines vintage...

Zoom Updates Mac App Installer to Remove Controversial 'Preflight' Installation Method

Thursday April 2, 2020 11:42 am PDT by Eric Slivka
The popular video conferencing company Zoom has been under scrutiny over the past few days for the method used to install the Mac version of its app, which essentially abused a "preflight" compatibility check to install the app without the user needing to explicitly grant installation permission, as highlighted by developer Felix Seele earlier this week. Screenshot of preflight compatibility ...

Top Stories: Apple Leaks iPhone SE and AirTags, Apple Buys Dark Sky, and More

Saturday April 4, 2020 6:00 am PDT by MacRumors Staff
With the calendar rolling over to April this week, we yet again saw several leaks and rumors, most notably including Apple itself leaking some references to a pair of long-rumored products: a new budget iPhone SE and AirTags item trackers. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Apple also acquired popular weather app Dark Sky, while Amazon's Prime Video app now allows...