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Mobile, Sprint and AT&T are under fire for selling customer location data

11 January 2019

T-Mobile made a similar announcement yesterday, saying that it had already blocked location data requests from aggregator Zumigo (which was specifically mentioned in Motherboard's report) and that it was nearly done severing ties with other third-party data aggregators. Motherboard posed as a potential customer in Microbilt customer support, where the company said that locating a phone can cost as little as $4.95 each.

An investigation led by the site found that for a few hundred bucks, it could easily gain access to the location of a specific mobile phone with an accuracy of just under 500 meters.

"At least one company, called Microbilt, is selling phone geolocation services with little oversight to a spread of different private industries, ranging from vehicle salesmen and property managers to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, according to sources familiar with the company's products and company documents obtained by Motherboard", Cox wrote. In the report that came out earlier this week, the location data used to find a T-Mo phone for $300 was sold by T-Mobile to Zumigo, who then sold it to Microbilt, a company that then sold it to a bail bond company and the source that provided the phone's location.

This was accomplished with a "tracking tool [that] relies on real-time location data sold to bounty hunters that ultimately originated from the telcos themselves, including T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint", Motherboard wrote. Now, AT&T will stop sending data to every service it has provided location data to in the past. But opting out may not be easy for you when you make use of a mobile phone.

The story follows reporting past year by the New York Times, which kicked off after Sen. Numerous companies appear to be exploiting this loophole to quietly offer location services for unsanctioned uses on the cheap, or are otherwise contributing unwittingly through their own negligence to a prosperous underground market.

Motherboard also reached out to Zumigo, the company who sold T-Mobile user data to Microbilt in the first place.

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Today, Wyden said he's disappointed that carriers are apparently still selling location data to data brokers.

"We only permit sharing of location when a customer gives permission for cases like fraud prevention or emergency roadside assistance or when required by law", AT&T also said. We have shut down access for MicroBilt as we investigate these allegations, ' the statement continued. Following the reports, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent letters to the four major carriers demanding more information about the practices.

AT&T's move follows similar actions by competitor T-Mobile.

'While T-Mobile does not have a direct relationship with Microbilt, our vendor Zumigo was working with them and has confirmed with us that they have already shut down all transmission of T-Mobile data.

When reached for comment, T-Mobile directed us to Legere's Twitter feed, where he wrote that the company has "blocked access to device location data for any request submitted by Zumigo on behalf of Microbilt" and that the company is almost finished with the process of "terminating the agreements" it has with third-dfparty data aggregators.

Mobile, Sprint and AT&T are under fire for selling customer location data