Earlier this week, a report emerged from Motherboard highlighting that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint were selling user information to third-party services, and that the data was often winding up in the wrong hands. Now, however, AT&T is attempting to fix the issue — and has announced that it will stop selling customers’ location data to third-party services.
In the Motherboard report, a bounty hinter was able to successfully track down a reporter’s T-Mobile device thanks to a location data aggregator, MicroBilt. T-Mobile didn’t have a partnership with MicroBilt though. Instead, MicroBilt was acquiring its data through Zumigo, which was a T-Mobile partner.
In response to the report, lawmakers called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the practice, after which both T-Mobile and Sprint announced that they would end the programs through which they sold location data to third parties.
“Last year we stopped most location aggregation services while maintaining some that protect our customers, such as roadside assistance and fraud prevention,” an AT&T spokesman said in a statement to Washington Post. “In light of recent reports about the misuse of location services, we have decided to eliminate all location aggregation services – even those with clear consumer benefits.”
There are some location-tracking services that offered benefits to consumers. For example, some location data can be used in fraud prevention and for emergency services. Both T-Mobile and AT&T have said that they will stop selling the data to third-parties by March. In Verizon’s announcement, the company told customers that they would have to expressly give Verizon permission to share data with services like roadside assistance firms.
Of course, there is some skepticism surrounding the announcements. Carriers have said in the past that they would stop selling location data to third parties, even though the practice continued. Both AT&T and Verizon announced in June that they would end location data-sharing contracts — however it seems that the announcement was limited to contracts with some specific trackers.
Data collection by carriers and other companies is likely to become more of an issue as time goes on. In 2018, public concerns over privacy hit an all-time high thanks to scandals involving Facebook and other tech companies.