If Regulators Won’t Stop The Sale of Cell Phone Users’ Location Data, Consumers Must

By Aaron Mackey

A Motherboard investigation revealed in January how any cellphone users’ real-time location could be obtained for $300. The pervasiveness of the practice, coupled with the extreme invasion of people’s privacy, is alarming.

The reporting showed there is a vibrant market for location data generated by everyone’s cell phones—information that can be incredibly detailed and provide a window into people’s most sensitive and private activities. The investigation also laid bare that cell phone carriers AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and the many third parties with access to the companies’ location data, have little interest or incentive to stop.

This market of your personal information violates federal law and Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules that protect people’s location privacy. The market also violates FCC rules prohibiting disclosure of extremely sensitive location information derived in part from GPS data that is only to be disclosed when emergency responders need to find people during an emergency.

We expected the FCC to take immediate action to shut down the unlawful location data market and to punish the bad actors.

But many months later, the FCC has not taken any public action. It’s a bad sign when minority FCC commissioners have to take to the pages of the New York Times to call for an end to the practices, or must send their own letters to carriers to get basic information about the problem. Although some members of Congress have investigated and demanded an end to the practice, no solution is in sight.

Earlier this year, the major cell phone providers promised that they have ended or will end the practices. Those promises ring hollow after they promised to end sale of the same location data in 2018.

In light of this inaction, consumers must step up to make sure that their location data is no longer so easily sold and that laws are enforced to prohibit it from happening again.

Although much of the reporting has focused on bounty hunters’ ability to obtain anyone’s location information, documents created by the companies that accessed and sold the data show it was used for many other purposes. This includes marketing materials for car dealerships to buy real-time location data of potential buyers, and for landlords to find the locations of their potential tenants. Even more troubling, stalkers and bounty hunters appeared to be able to impersonate law enforcement officials and use the system to find people, including victims of domestic violence.

EFF wants to stop this illegal violation of the location privacy of millions of phone users. So please tell us your stories.

If you believe these companies unlawfully shared your cell phone location information, please let us know. In particular, it would be helpful if you could tell us:

  • Who obtained your cell phone location information?
  • How did they get it?
  • How did they use it?
  • When and where did this happen?
  • What cell phone provider were you using?
  • How do you know this?
  • Do you have any documents or other evidence that shows this?

Please write to us at [email protected].

Aaron works on free speech, privacy, government surveillance and transparency. Before joining EFF in 2015, Aaron was in Washington, D.C. where he worked on speech, privacy, and freedom of information issues at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law. Aaron graduated from Berkeley Law in 2012, where he worked for EFF while a student in the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic. He also holds an LLM from Georgetown Law. Prior to law school, Aaron was a journalist at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, Arizona. He received his undergraduate degree in journalism and English from the University of Arizona in 2006, where he met his amazing wife, Ashley. They have two young children.

This article was sourced from EFF.org

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