Nearly a week after the other major wireless carriers vowed to stop selling customers location-data, Sprint has decided to do the same.
Sprint has announced that it will also stop selling customer location-data. According to a Sprint spokesperson, the company decided to stop its arrangements with data aggregators last year. However it also "assessed that the negative impacts to customers for services like roadside assistance and bank fraud alerts/protection that would result required a different approach. This led to Sprint taking a different approach. It now has more "stringent safeguards to help protect customer location data." But due to recent events, it has decided to end the arrangements with data aggregators entirely.
Joining, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, now all of the major carriers in the US have agreed to stop selling location-data to other companies. This of course, comes after a bombshell investigation from Motherboard that showed how easy it was to track someone's phone, and how quickly that information can fall into the wrong hands. This got a lot of people's attention. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all ended their relationships with data aggregators almost instantly. Though Sprint was quiet for nearly a week before we heard a peep out of them.
This location-data actually serves a purpose for carriers, who would need to share this data with outside companies for things like roadside assistance and bank fraud alerts. These are services that these carriers have offered for years. But because the carriers don't offer this service themselves, and offer them through other companies – or aggregators – the data is essentially sold to them. This led to carriers defending the practice in the past. And it is also why they are not ending the relationships immediately, and giving a March deadline. To ensure that it won't affect any products that it currently sells.
This investigation showed everyone how carriers had very little respect for our privacy, and the fact that there is no regulation involved either. The only regulation for carriers and selling data, is the fact that they cannot sell it to law enforcement. But everything else is off limits. And once a company sells it to another, what happens after that is no longer their fault. Which leads to a much larger issue for everyone involved.
Congress also sought to get involved, and demanded that FCC chairman, Ajit Pai make an appearance in front of the Committee of Energy and Commerce, in an "emergency briefing" to brief members of the House of Representatives, on how carriers are able to sell customers location-data without any blowback. Pai declined the briefing, stating that he could not come due to the government shutdown – even though he is still working and is not furloughed.
It appears that the wireless carriers are much more interested in protecting consumer's data, following this investigation, than the FCC who is overseeing what these carriers do. Though this is not new for Chairman Pai, who has sought to undo everything done under the Obama administration, as well as rolling back a ton of regulation. So it's really no surprise here.