Even when mobile carriers make a promise, they still can’t be trusted. In 2018, the FCC examined the actions of California company, LocationSmart, that identifies the locations of phones connected with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Following a security problem that leaked cell phone users’ real-time location, some carriers vowed to stop selling location data to third-party data brokers.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote to carriers identifying potential abuse of private customer data. In a letter to AT&T in May 2018, Senator Wyden wrote that, “Securus Technologies, a major provider of correctional-facility telephone services, purchases real-time information from major wireless carriers and provides information, via a self-serve web portal, to the government for nothing more than the legal equivalent of a pinky promise.” He continued that Securus confirmed that “its web portal enables surveillance of customers of every major U.S. wireless carrier.”
In addition to the issue of unchecked government surveillance, selling customer data creates an opportunity for rampant abuse and potential safety breaches. However, giant corporations have their eye on profit rather than their customers’ safety. After attention from both Senator Wyden and the FCC, all four wireless carriers agreed to stop selling their customers’ location data to third-party data brokers. Unfortunately, the carriers did not follow through on their promise. According to Ars Technica, a recent report by Motherboard asserts that “T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T are [still] selling access to their customers’ location data and that data is ending up in the hands of bounty hunters and others not authorized to possess it, letting them track most phones in the country.” It is unclear if Verizon is still selling their data.
Senator Wyden sees the issue clearly. He wrote on Twitter that “Major carriers pledged to end these practices, but it appears to have been more empty promises to consumers.”
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