T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint are reviewing how they sell location data of their customers, after Motherboard story on how easy is to buy location data from a specific user. Location data can put at risk user privacy if not used properly. Bounty hunters say they can find the current location of most phones in the United States.
After the Motherboard report, there were reactions of FCC and from Ron Wyden, U.S. Senator from Oregon:
"The FCC needs to investigate. Stat," said Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner of the FCC, on Twitter.
"Congress needs to pass strong legislation to protect Americans’ privacy and finally hold companies accountable when they put your safety at risk by letting stalkers and criminals track your phone on the dark web." wrote Ron Wyden, U.S. Senator from Oregon.
Following the story and the reactions, the carriers said they will review how they sell data to aggregators:
"Our top priority is to protect our customers' information, and, to that end, we will be ending our work with aggregators for these services as soon as practical in a way that preserves important, potential lifesaving services like emergency roadside assistance," AT&T said in a statement to Ars.
How mobile carries sell the location data to aggregators?
Mobile Carriers use data aggregators to monetize location data. Verizon has contracts with LocationSmart and Zumigo. Verizon says the location data used by the location aggregator programs are limited to coarse (rather than precise) location information. Coarse location information is derived from the Verizon network and is significantly less accurate than a precise location. Precise information are usually from GPS, and is obtained with apps installed on mobile phones (like maps, or car services).
Location sources used by data aggregators
Location data from carriers are just a source of data. Here the sources that data brokers are using to find the location of a user:
- Cell ID
- GSID - Global Site ID
- IP addresses
- Landline number
- SDKs installed on apps that use location