Lawmakers Call On FCC To Investigate Sale Of Cell Phone Location Data

January 11, 2019 - 2:27 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Dozens of phone companies promised to stop selling users location data, but reports have confirmed providers, such as T-Mobile, have not kept their vows.

In fact, a Motherboard investigation Tuesday revealed major mobile carriers were still selling location data to third parties, which then offers the data to a number of buyers, including bounty hunters.

During the investigation, an undercover reporter handed a bounty hunter $300 in cash and watched as he was able to purchase the precise location of a cellphone with no other information expect for the number.

The phone number was registered under T-Mobile, but AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have all allegedly agreed to similar data-sharing deals.

Now, several lawmakers are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the mobile carriers, and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel agrees.

Tweeting a response to the Motherboard article, Rosenworcel wrote: “The @fcc needs to investigate. Stat.”

Speaking with WCBS 880’s Steve Scott on Friday, the commissioner reiterated her point.

“There are entities out there that will sell information about where you are with your cell phone in real time, it's like this: for a few hundred dollars, anyone can pay to figure out where you are within a few hundred meters. And that, to me, does not sound right. I think the FCC needs to investigate,” Rosenworcel said.

She notes that while the information is crucial for providing cellular service and that the information should be readily available for law enforcement agencies, it shouldn’t be sold to just anyone.

“You didn't give permission to anybody and anyone, to pay to get information about where you are at any time. That's the problem and that's where the oversight is necessary,” she said.

Since the publication of the Motherboard report, mobile carriers have come out to promise more privacy for subscribers and more transparency.

But, FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel says the agency still needs to uncover what third-parties had access to user’s location data.

When asked what the agency could do to impose financial or criminal penalties, Rosenworcel explained that the FCC has the authority to look at customer proprietary network information and location information.

She said the challenge is: “We've got to figure out how in a modern way those rules apply to these practices.”