Carriers Tell Rosenworcel They Have Cut Ties with Location Data Aggregators

Three out of the four major mobile wireless providers say they have terminated their location aggregators program--literally a "March" toward that goal, and the fourth says that is happening as of the end of this month.

That came in letters responding to letters from by senior FCC Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was looking for more information on the FCC's investigation into the carrier's alleged selling/sharing of geographic location information with those third party data aggregators, information that reportedly made its way to bounty hunters and others.

Related: Walden 'On Edge' Over Geolocation Data Sharing

AT&T told Rosenworcel it had terminated its sharing of data with aggregators or LBS (location-based services) as of March 29, 2019--it starting phasing out the program in 2018--and is verifying they are deleting the info they already have. AT&T said it was not aware of any of its customers' data making its way to bounty hunters. 

Rosenworcel's letter had also cited a February press report that wireless carriers "may also have sold assisted or augmented global positioning system (A-GPS) location data." AT&T said that reports that there was improper use of such data were inaccurate.

Verizon was on a similar timeline with its wind-down, saying it had terminated its location aggregation arrangements with its last four companies, all providing roadside assistance, at the end of March 2019, having terminated the program in November 2018.

Related: Pai Tells Hill He Is Not Delaying Geolocation Data Investigation

T-Mobile said that as of Feb. 8, 2019, it had terminated "all service provider access to location data" under its location aggregator program, and the last contract expired March 9.

Sprint was the only one still supplying the info. It told Rosenworcel that while as of May 31 it would no longer contract with any aggregators or LBS, it might still provide LBS directly to the only aggregator and two LBS services it was still supplying with info--a provider of roadside assistance to Sprint customers and one that "t facilitates compliance with state requirements for a lottery that funds state government.

“The FCC has been totally silent about press reports that for a few hundred dollars shady middlemen can sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data," said Rosenworcel. "That’s unacceptable.... This is an issue that affects the privacy and security of every American with a wireless phone. It is chilling to think what a black market for this data could mean in the hands of criminals, stalkers, and those who wish to do us harm. I will continue to press this agency to make public what it knows about what happened. But I do not believe consumers should be kept in the dark. That is why I am making these letters available today.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.