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.

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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.

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Top Rated Comments

kevinp8192 Avatar
67 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)
alphaod Avatar
67 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)
69Mustang Avatar
67 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: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Onexy Avatar
67 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)
Alan Wynn Avatar
67 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)
curtvaughan Avatar
67 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)