User Location Being Sold on the Black Market, Report Says


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Despite a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and consumer outrage, wireless services providers are still selling user location data to third parties, says an April 2, 2019 report.

Private no More

A quick look at the news will tell you that consumers are becoming much more concerned about their privacy and, more importantly, how their data is being used. As a result of this, businesses are being forced to take the matter more seriously.

For example, when Coinbase came under scrutiny for their acquisition of Neutrino, they justified this by saying that their previous analytics provider had been selling user data. This statement alone forced Elliptic to issue a statement clarifying that they have not and do not currently sell user data.

While this might seem like a ripple effect of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that took place last year, an April 2, 2019, New York Times report uncovered just how much data wireless companies are selling.

Most people who sign up for mobile phone services are aware that, to an extent, their location is being monitored by the service provider. On paper, this is a good thing as it helps in the provision of things such as emergency services and even mundane offerings like ride-hailing and food delivery apps.

However, the Cambridge Analytica scandal of last year sparked a conversation about just how much data was being sold. According to the report, user data is being sold to various third parties. Besides the obvious violation of privacy, there is some danger to this practice.

It is not uncommon to see sites on the internet that allow the tracking of people’s locations by only using their phone number. This has been used by stalkers to keep track of their victims, and a bounty hunter even used one of these services to track down the location of their target to within a few feet.

Raising the Alarm

Fortunately, some action is being taken on a federal level to curb these activities. In 2018, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, sent a letter to the FCC asking for an investigation to be opened into the use of online tracking services.

Wireless providers then responded saying that they would not allow bounty hunters to have access to their sites. It has been discovered, however, that the location-data black market still sells this information.

Despite this, no official action has been taken by the FCC, and the tracking of customers by third parties appears to continue for now.

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