FCC Commissioner Questions Telecom Companies for Selling Location Data


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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel on May 1, 2019, demanded answers from telecommunication companies in regards to their involvement in selling customers’ phone location information to data aggregators, Motherboard reported.

Building Pressure on Telecom Companies

Motherboard earlier investigated the far-reaching effect of telecom companies selling their customers’ location information to unauthorized third parties.

It revealed that sometimes even bounty hunters, bail bondsmen, and private investigators got their hands on the “highly precise assisted-GPS data.” In response to this, the telcos agreed to stop the sale of location data.

Later, AT&T and T-Mobile clarified that the sale had stopped while Sprint asked until the end of May to get things in place.

The FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel further pressured AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon to stop selling location data and to begin taking measures against any related after effects. The company heads were asked to clarify whether data aggregators or others were allowed to save phone location information they were sent, and what steps the companies would be taking to ensure that all the shared data was deleted.

The letter from Rosenworcel mentioned that the public still had little clue as to how much geolocation data was being saved in ways that made it far too accessible to others. Noting the risks with deanonymized location data, the letter warned the companies that “even deanonymized location data may be combined with other information that could make it personally identifiable again.”

Locating a Phone for $300

As part of its investigation, Motherboard paid an unnamed source $300 and successfully located a T-Mobile phone, which, they said, was possible only because T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint had sold customers’ location data.

Another investigation revealed that data brokers were providing Verizon location data to the bail industry. There were also accusations on a phone company for directly providing data to hundreds of bounty hunter clients.

FCC has consistently taken measures to suppress the sale of location data by telecom companies, and the results have begun rolling in. The matter, however, remains of utter seriousness as not all companies comply with the regulations.

Pressing on the illegality of selling customers’ location data, the commissioner’s letter also quoted:

“Under federal law, A-GPS data included in the National Emergency Address Database for enhanced 911 services may not be used for any other purpose.”

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