In a new letter sent to the FCC today, AT&T is defending its selling of your location data. This is despite the company actually stopping this practice earlier this year.
Last summer, all four major carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon) were caught selling its users' location data, to just about anything. Motherboard went through a pretty thorough investigation to find this out. And found just how easy it would be to track someone, using the data that the carriers sell to third parties. After that investigation shed light on the issue, all four carriers stopped selling data. While some, like AT&T couldn't stop doing it til earlier this year, due to the fact that the location data it was selling, was being used for some apps it pre-loads on your phone. Like roadside assistance.
The FCC is now investigating all four carriers, in regards to selling everyone's location data. Now, what was being done was not actually against the law. So it's unlikely that any of these carriers will get fined. But this will likely lead to some regulatory action, and new laws being put in place so that carriers cannot sell your location data to just anyone.
AT&T reiterates in its letter to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, that the type of data that it provided to third parties without user consent is not against the law. AT&T is playing on a technicality there, though. Saying that the data that it is providing is from A-GPS. The same data that is used by emergency services to locate you, but also used for some GPS apps like Uber and Lyft. AT&T is correct in saying that this is not under the same umbrella of data that the FCC prohibits carriers from selling.
Stating that "While A-GPS is certainly used by 911 dispatchers to assist in locating individuals in emergency situations, it is also an important feature commonly used by app developers to provide location services."
AT&T isn't saying anything untrue, in this letter, defending its selling of location data. But it's a bit interesting that AT&T is even defending this, considering it did kill off all apps and services that used location data from AT&T. That includes its roadside assistance apps. That contract ended in March, which AT&T says that its contracts also force all of its partners to delete any location data it may have on any of its customers.
This comes at a time where the FCC has been very quiet about this investigation. The FCC hasn't been able to find any wrongdoing on either parties' part. And that's because this was all legal, technically. As scary as it is, that someone can spend a couple hundred bucks and get location data on anyone they want, to hunt them down, it's not illegal.
When Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all responded to the FCC, they were a lot less defensive in regards to the location data selling practice that they had engaged in. With Sprint noting that it is in the process of ending its contracts with some companies.