Black market trade in real-time location data persists despite mobile operator promises


It was already known that law enforcement agencies can track phones to within 500 metres if they show service providers a warrant, but in January 2019, it became clear that the same real-time location data was being sold to a wide range of third parties, including car salesmen, property managers, bail bondsmen, and bounty hunters. The latter in turn would track any phone for private individuals for a few hundred dollars. At least one company, Microbilt, is selling these phone geolocation services with little oversight when its spying capability is resold to others on the black market. Telephone companies also sell access to their customers' location data to location aggregators such as Zumigo and LocationSmart who sell it on to clients including landlords and people conducting credit checks. In 2017, LocationSmart was caught selling location data to Securus, which has been caught providing phone tracking to law enforcement without requiring a warrant. Microbilt has quoted as little as $12.95 to provide real-time updates on a phone's location. Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T all pledged to combat the practice in 2017; by early 2019, T-Mobile said it had nearly finished the process of ending its agreements with location aggregators.
Writer: Joseph Cox
Publication: Motherboard

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