Broken Promises? Your Cell Provider May Still Be Selling Your Location Data

Verizon Wireless Credit: Seth Wenig / AP
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If you live in the United States, your carrier likely tracked and sold your location data to third parties. Your carrier probably also promised to stop — but did it?

Earlier this year, a Motherboard investigation revealed the extent of location data selling practices by U.S. telecom firms. Most major U.S. carriers sold that data to third-party aggregator firms. From there, the data made its way to everyone from law enforcement entities to bounty hunters.

During the investigation, a Motherboard reporter found that it was frighteningly easy to find the precise location of a smartphone with just its phone number (and a $300 payment to a bounty hunter).

But the controversy of U.S. carriers selling user location data stretches back more than a year. In the wake of the Motherboard report, each carrier immediately promised to stop selling location data. Yet, even after a continued year of consumer outrage and government scrutiny, the major U.S. carriers still continued the practice after they said they would stop.

Just last week, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel sent letters to the heads of AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile demanding answers about their location data practices.

And according to recently published responses by the FCC, each of the Big Four carriers lagged on stopping the practice — and some of them still do provide data to third parties. Here’s how each of the Big Four carriers in the U.S. break down.

Verizon

Verizon said it stopped selling location data to third-party data aggregators in November 2018, although it still continued selling customer data to roadside assistance operators until March 2019.

AT&T

AT&T promised to stop selling location data by June 2018 — with some exceptions. But, in fact, the practice continued until March 2019. And AT&T still sells location data for fraud prevention and roadside assistance.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile pleaded to cease selling location data by May or June 2018. The Uncarrier actually continued the practice until March 2019.

Sprint

Sprint said it would terminate its contacts with third-party data aggregators in June 2018. But the carrier still sells location data today. Sprint says it’ll officially stop selling data to aggregators by the end of the month (May 2019), but will continue to provide that data to breakdown services and a lottery compliance group.

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