The scandal of US mobile carriers selling user location data was exposed earlier this year. The data was sold to a wide range of customers, ranging from banks wanting to reduce card fraud to bounty hunters tracking wanted criminals.
But the most worrying aspect of all was that carriers and bounty hunters alike were selling and re-selling location data to third-parties, with no controls over what then happened to it …
While all the major carriers promised to put an end to the sales, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden expressed skepticism.
Major carriers pledged to end these practices, but it appears to have been more empty promises to consumers.
A TechCrunch report suggests he was right to do so.
New letters published by the FCC show that despite a year of scrutiny and anger, the carriers have only recently put an end to this practice.
We already knew that the carriers, like many large companies, simply could not be trusted. In January it was clear that promises to immediately “shut down,” “terminate” or “take steps to stop” the location-selling side business were, shall we say, on the empty side. Kind of like their assurances that these services were closely monitored — no one seems to have bothered actually checking whether the third-party resellers were obtaining the required consent before sharing location data.
Similarly, the carriers took their time shutting down the arrangements they had in place, and communication on the process has been infrequent and inadequate.
Here’s what the letters reveal.
Promised to stop the practice in May and June 2018.
Actually ended it in March 2019.
Promised to phase out the practice, with some exceptions, in June 2018.
Actually ended most of in March 2019, but continues to sell data for fraud prevention, as well as for things like towing companies getting location data for stranded motorists.
Promised to terminate contracts in June 2018.
Continues to sell location data as of today. Says it will cease selling to aggregators at the end of this month, but will continue to sell to a breakdown service and a lottery compliance entity.
Ceased selling to aggregators in November 2018.
Continued to sell data to a roadside assistance service until March 2019.
The letters were posted online by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who says that she had been frustrated by the delays and lack of communication from carriers selling user location data. She said that the violation of customer privacy by carriers was unacceptable.