AT&T is cutting off all location-data sharing ties in March

AT&T is ending its location tracking services.


AT&T says it will no longer sell your location data to aggregation services.

Lawmakers called on the FCC to investigate breach of privacy after Motherboard reported that mobile carriers, like T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T, provided phone location data to third-party trackers. While carriers offered location data for legitimate services, such as fraud prevention and emergency roadside assistance, the information was frequently abused by data buyers to track people down. 

“Last year we stopped most location aggregation services while maintaining some that protect our customers, such as roadside assistance and fraud prevention. 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. We are immediately eliminating the remaining services and will be done in March,” an AT&T spokesman said in a statement.  

AT&T’s move follows similar actions by competitor T-Mobile. CEO John Legere said in tweets that T-Mobile would also completely end such services by March. Sprint and Verizon didn’t respond to a request for comment.  

If the decision sounds familiar, it’s because AT&T, Verizon and other companies said they were cutting off location-data sharing contracts last June. But at the time, the decisions were limited to canceling its contracts with specific trackers. Now, AT&T will stop sending data to every service it had provided location data to in the past. 

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

Your phone is essentially a tracker in your pocket, as it provides pinpoint accuracy on your whereabouts anywhere you take the device. While tech giants like Google and Facebook are also tracking you, you can always choose to uninstall their apps. For many, living without phone service is a much greater sacrifice than giving up social media.

Privacy issues in technology have become a concern for lawmakers, who have proposed legislation to ensure people are protected from digital surveillance. Public concerns also saw a major spike in 2018, as a barrage of tech scandals made more people aware of how they were being followed online. 

While the mobile carriers provided people’s location data with users’ consent, it often falls out of their control once it’s handed over. Motherboard obtained a T-Mobile user’s location through a phone number, thanks to the location aggregator MicroBilt. But T-Mobile said it did not have a relationship with MicroBilt — the company acquired that data through Zumigo, which T-Mobile did work with.

This shady practice allowed nearly anyone to track people from their phone numbers in the US. While the FCC has investigated LocationSmart, a company that provides geolocation data from people’s phones, lawmakers were requesting an investigation on mobile carriers who sold this data. 

Originally published at 1:26 p.m. PT.
Updated at 1:59 p.m. PT:
To add details about phone location data tracking services.

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