Mobile responds to location data scandal, says it’s ‘completely ending’ aggregator work

Joanna Estrada
January 11, 2019

The carriers were pressured into making the change after a security problem leaked the real-time location of USA cell phone users. After it came out, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of OR sent a letter demanding that the FCC investigate why the third-party organization Securus Technologies was able to track any phone "within seconds" by using data obtained from cell phone companies, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, through an intermediary called LocationSmart.

A researcher reportedly paid $300 to a bounty hunter who was then able to geolocate a phone down to a location in a specific neighborhood only blocks away from the actual location of the targeted phone. For instance, AT&T vowed to "protect customer data" and "shut down" Securus's access to its real-time store of customer location data.

"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.

Motherboard described how the data is passed along a chain of private companies. Zumigo then shared that data with a second firm called Microbilt, which in turn provided it to a bail bond company. MicroBilt shared that data with a customer using its mobile phone tracking product. But they sell access to this information to bail bondsmen (AKA bounty hunters) some of whom will do a location check for money under the table. Now, AT&T will stop sending data to every service it has provided location data to in the past.

But when Motherboard arranged for a phone to be located, "the target phone received no warning it was being tracked", the news site wrote.

It's not hard to get learn the location of nearly any phone, according to a new report. "Upon investigating the alleged abuse and learning of the violation of our contract, we terminated the customer's access to our products, and they will not be eligible for reinstatement based on this violation".

In addition to telecoms selling cell phone location data to company, the researcher said that there is a trickle down effect with the information, which could land in the wrong hands.

AT&T says it will no longer sell your location data to aggregation services. It was also reported that a LocationSmart bug could have allowed anyone to surreptitiously track the real-time whereabouts of cell phone users.

At the time, US Sen.

Like T-Mobile, AT&T marked March as the cut-off date to make sure legitimate services that use location data aren't disrupted by the change. 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.

Today, Wyden said he's disappointed that carriers are apparently still selling location data to data brokers. Following the reports, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent letters to the four major carriers demanding more information about the practices.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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