All you need to track any phone’s location is a small bribe


AT&T said Thursday, two days after the report was published, that it will stop selling all location data from mobile phones to brokers beginning in March. But the Motherboard investigation showed that the data was being re-sold on the black market, allowing pretty much anyone to get the location of other people's phones. The report naturally caused concern amongst lawmakers and privacy advocates.

T-Mobile said in a statement to The Verge that it has "blocked access to device location data for any request submitted by Zumigo". The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following the revelation this month that nothing has changed, Senator Wyden has again called for an FCC investigation, and again argued for a privacy law that would protect USA citizens from having their personal data sold without their permission.

In many cases, consent is needed to track a phone, such as in the case of roadside assistance, who may send a text to the customer's phone before they start to track them. Fast forward to this month, and journalist Joe Cox was able to pay a bounty hunter $300 to have someone's T-Mobile US phone number tracked and located - through the exact same location reselling system that had previously been exposed.

"It's not enough for these tech giants and their CEOs to lay blame for misuse and abuse of information on downstream companies", he added in his tweet.

Verizon was the only one of the four major carriers that wasn't flagged by Motherboard's investigation.

Amid increasing pressure from federal lawmakers, three of the major United States wireless carriers announced plans to end the sale of location data sharing after a report by Motherboard showed just how easy it was for a bounty hunter to track a reporter's phone.

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The FCC commissioner agreed with her in a tweet, writing that "It shouldn't be that you pay a few hundred dollars to a bounty hunter and then they tell you in real time where a phone is ..."

"This is what happens when there are no financial penalties that are meaningful to the companies when they breach your data and destroy your privacy", said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. "This entire ecosystem needs oversight".

"What we were told in 2018 is that they would stop selling location data and now we're seeing evidence that it's still happening". On Friday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-NJ, asked the FCC to provide the committee's staff with an emergency briefing on the matter. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said in a statement to Motherboard that she was "extraordinarily troubled" with the reports and that, "if true, this practice represents a legitimate threat to our personal and national security".

Pallone said the emergency FCC briefing should be held on Monday - regardless of whether or not the federal government is still shut down.

"Protecting our customers' privacy and security is a top priority, and we are transparent about that in our Privacy Policy".

Verizon, the only major US carrier not cited for the most recent problem, said it is working hard to implement commitments made last summer about location aggregation agreements.

"Responsible federal agencies and the U.S. Congress should continue to hold hearings to shine a light on these practices, and look at regulations to ensure companies are actually upfront with consumers about whether and how their sensitive data is being used and sold", Warner said in a statement.