Back in June 2018, all four major mobile carriers released statements pledging to stop selling their mobile customers’ location information to third-party data brokers. The statements came after intense pressure from consumers after a security issue leaked the consumers real-time location data. However, a new investigation conducted by online magazine channel dedicated to technology, Motherboard found that T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T are still accessing and selling location data.
The investigation by Motherboard found that despite the previous pledge to end data selling, three of the four wireless carriers (T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T) are currently still selling their customer’s location data. And how exactly did they find out? Motherboard paid a bounty hunter $300 to track the location of a cellphone with nothing but the phone number. The bounty hunter, the publication reported, was able to track the phone through data from a third-party aggregator called Zumigo. That company provided access from major phone carriers to a location-tracking service called Microbilt, which reportedly offered the service to several industries.
Motherboard described how the data is passed along a chain of private companies. “In the case of the phone we tracked, six different entities had potential access to the phone’s data,” the report said. “T-Mobile shares location data with an aggregator called Zumigo, which shares information with MicroBilt. MicroBilt shared that data with a customer using its mobile phone tracking product. The bounty hunter then shared this information with a bail industry source, who shared it with Motherboard.”
MicroBilt told Motherboard that customers using its service for fraud prevention must obtain consent from phone users, the news site wrote. However, when Motherboard arranged for a phone to be located, “the target phone received no warning it was being tracked,” the news site wrote. MicroBilt investigated the case and found that a private bail-bond company made the request for the phone’s location, according to Motherboard.
All three major carriers have responded that they are in the process of blocking access to device location data, however many believe that these are simply empty promises and that they will continue to sell customer data. And with mobile technology having become a necessity in our daily lives, we may have to get to the fact that our personal information will be accessible for anyone willing to pay for it.