Report: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile Sell Access to Customers’ Location Histories

google map on a cell phone
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ALANA MASTRANGELO

Cell phone service providers including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are allegedly selling access to the location data of their customers, which can end up in the possession of unauthorized individuals, according to a recent report.

Cellphone service providers sell access to their customers’ location data, which can even end up in the hands of bounty hunters, according to a new report by Motherboard, which had launched an investigation to see if it was possible for a bounty hunter to obtain access to an individual’s geographical location.

With the individual’s permission, Motherboard reporter Joseph Cox gave a bounty hunter their phone number so that they could be targeted. The reporter said that the hunter was able to find the phone’s location “armed just the number and a few hundred dollars.”

“He had offered to geolocate a phone for me, using a shady, overlooked service intended not for the cops,” said Cox, “but for private individuals and businesses.”

The reporter added that the bounty hunter was able to track the phone easily, without the help of a hacking tool and without any hints as to where the phone could be located. The hunter relied on the help of the service providers themselves, which sold him the location data, according to Motherboard.

The report adds that one company called Microbilt is selling location data for phones with “little oversight” to several different industries, ranging from car salesmen to bounty hunters.

According to a wireless communications trade association known as CITA, its official guidelines state that they require “user notice and consent” from individuals being tracked, in order to protect the privacy of users.

Cox, however, claims “it’s clear that [obtaining consent] is not always happening,” and that geolocation data is being sold to a wide range of industries and businesses, as well as within an underground market in which Microbilt customers “resell their access at a profit.”

The reporter also mentioned that his source at the bail company — who informed Motherboard about Microbilt — also noted that bounty hunters have used these types of phone-finding services for purposes unrelated to work, such as tracking their girlfriends. If true, it does not seem likely that consent was obtained.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo and on Instagram.

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