Published: Sat, January 12, 2019
Economy | By

AT&T will sever ties with location aggregators as well

AT&T will sever ties with location aggregators as well

"Last year we stopped most location aggregation services while maintaining some that protect our customers, such as roadside assistance and fraud prevention", AT&T said in a statement provided to Ars today.

'I've personally evaluated this issue & have pledged that @tmobile will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen, ' wrote T-Mobile CEO John Legere in a tweet on June 19. Verizon sent a letter [PDF] saying it had "conducted a comprehensive review" of its "location aggregator program" and as a result would kill the agreements it had with the two companies in the program, LocationSmart and Zumigo.

The other operators put out similar statements.

Microbilt's promotional material, which markets its service to debt collectors, bounty hunters and loan originators, states that it has access to location data for "any mobile phone" in the U.S. "Nonetheless, we are reviewing these issues carefully to ensure the proper handling of all AT&T customer information".

A T-Mobile spokesperson confirmed to The Verge that the company has "blocked access to device location data for any request submitted by Zumigo on behalf of Microbilt", and said it was in the process of ending providing access to third-party data aggregators more broadly.

But, just as we warned at the time, it was all weasel words.

The move follows a Tuesday report on Vice's Motherboard site that showed how bounty hunters can track phone locations using carrier data.

In this case it wasn't Securus but a company called Microbilt. In June, they vowed to scale back their location sharing partnerships after a prison technology company was found abusing the data for warrantless cell phone location lookups.

"The American people have an absolute right to the privacy of their data, which is why I'm extraordinarily troubled by reports of this system of repackaging and reselling location data to unregulated third party services for potentially nefarious purposes", the junior senator from California said.

Senators Kamala Harris, Ron Wyden, and Mark Warner called on the appropriate federal agencies to investigate, namely the Federal Communications Commission.

Mobile carriers collect your phone location data and often use it for legitimate services, like roadside assistance and finding lost devices. "Google Fi is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) and not a carrier, but as soon as we heard about this practice, we required our network partners to shut it down as soon as possible". Yet seven months later, it seems that "winding down" still hadn't started. "We are immediately eliminating the remaining services and will be done in March". Verizon seems to be the exception among the big-four wireless carriers.

On Tuesday, Legere returned to Twitter to insist that efforts to end the practice of selling location data are proceeding apace. "This is a company making a profit-based decision to share and sell data so they're fully culpable and they should be fully responsible", Court said. Last time around, FCC boss Ajit Pai refused to investigate the matter, and while there has been no response from Pai on the renewed calls for an investigation thanks to the partial USA government shutdown, it is a virtual certainly that he will continue his pro-telco agenda and stay away from the issue.

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