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Motherboard report implicates major US carriers in a geolocation data-selling scandal

A phone with your number can be approximated through its distance from a cell tower. (Source: Trulioo)
A phone with your number can be approximated through its distance from a cell tower. (Source: Trulioo)
An article posted to the online outlet Motherboard has alleged that the carriers T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T have been selling their US customers' geolocation data to private companies, who then went on to sell it to other parties such as those who issue bail bonds. The carriers in question have subsequently committed to put an end to these practices.

Motherboard has released a report claiming to have uncovered a major scandal in which T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T has been selling US customer geolocation data. This enables a wide range of private customers to approximate the location of any phone, so long as they have the right number for it. A correspondent from the media outlet has written that he verified these claims by paying a "bounty hunter" to locate a phone on the T-Mobile network.

The user of this phone had consented to this form of tracking by Motherboard. However, the article also stated that customers on these carriers did not have to give consent to be tracked using geolocation data under normal circumstances. Carriers are in a position to gather this data based on how far away individual mobile devices are from their cell towers. This data is accurate enough to track phones to individual districts or neighbourhoods, if not actual homes or streets. Nevertheless, Motherboard had found that this level of tracking data is still valuable enough for carriers to sell it to private companies known as geolocation aggregators. By contrast, carriers typically assure their customers that they do not release geolocation data unless required to by parties such as federal or state law enforcement.

Conversely, however, the Motherboard report asserted that the aggregators (Zumigo or Microbilt) had been selling the data they bought on to other less official customers, those in the bail industry included. This, apparently, is how the 'bounty hunter' located the phone via the number supplied by the Motherboard writer. This report, published only 3 days ago, has already resulted in the public pressure necessary to prompt carrier representatives such as T-Mobile CEO John Legere to end their relationships with geolocation aggregators. For example, AT&T has announced that it will suspend all the uses it currently makes of this data by March 2019.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2019 01 > Motherboard report implicates major US carriers in a geolocation data-selling scandal
Deirdre O Donnell, 2019-01-11 (Update: 2019-01-11)