AT&T and T-Mobile announced that in March 2019 they would stop selling user location data to third parties. The announcements came on the heels of a Motherboard article that reported on the ability to track individual cellular phones via “location aggregator” companies with access to mobile customer information.
Cellular location data was sold as a customer-friendly feature that could streamline things like roadside assistance and fraud prevention. In practice, the information became part of a sophisticated supply chain that allowed location data to be accessed by virtually anyone willing to pay the fee, including bail bondsmen, car salesman, and bounty hunters.
Several U.S. senators quickly called for an FCC investigation into the matter after the article was published.
Senator Ron Wyden expressed skepticism about AT&T and T-Mobile’s commitment to end the practice, citing a similar announcement made in June 2018 by multiple carriers, including AT&T, to cut off contracts for location data sharing.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Wyden said in an email to Gizmodo. “The time for taking these companies at their word is long past – Congress needs to pass strong legislation to protect Americans’ privacy and finally hold corporations accountable when they put your safety at risk by letting stalkers and criminals track your phone on the dark web.”