On Thursday, several lawsuits were filed against the four major wireless carriers: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. Accordingly, the carrier lawsuits came from the their role in location and other data being misused, uncovered by Motherboard, The New York Times, and Senator Ron Wyden. According to Motherboard, Bloomberg Law was the first to report the lawsuits.
With all the recent privacy scandals and data breaches going on, this is bad news for consumers. According to the lawsuit, the big four violated customers’ privacy by sharing their data with third party companies. In turn, these companies would then sell the data to bounty hunters, debt collectors, bail bondsmen, and middlemen.
The carrier lawsuit alleges they violated FCC law by sharing geolocation data, phone numbers, and other account information. It covers around 300 million customers from April, 2015 to February 2019.
Motherboard did the initial investigation, interestingly. Read the report for yourself, here is the summary: a bounty hunter takes $300 and a cellphone number. Armed with just these things, he was able to produce a Google Maps screenshot of the near exact location of the person.
It’s known that Law Enforcement can use this data, with proper warrants, in the event of a crime. But the thought of private data ending up in the hands of private companies, for anyone to use, is a scary one.
The investigation detailed how one company, named Microbilt, sold geolocation services with absolutely no oversight. Additionally, this data is further re-sold on the black market. According to Joseph Cox, the man who did the investigation,
… at least one company, called Microbilt, is selling phone geolocation services with little oversight to a spread of different private industries, ranging from car salesmen and property managers to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, according to sources familiar with the company’s products and company documents obtained by Motherboard.
In an age where technology is taking over, it’s crucial that we take a stance against these data selling practices. This carrier lawsuit is the first step.