Telcos promise to stop selling location data, but Congress is not satisfied

Earlier this week, after US wireless carriers were put on blast for selling their users’ location data without consent, the industry promptly promised to bring the practice to an end. The industry response, however, hasn’t satisfied leaders in Congress. On Friday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-NJ, asked the FCC to provide the committee’s staff with an emergency briefing on the matter.

“While some carriers have now recommitted to stopping such unauthorized disclosure, the public can no longer rely on their voluntary promises to protect this extremely sensitive information,” Pallone said in a letter to the FCC.

The letter follows a Motherboard report, which demonstrated how T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint continue to sell location data to third-party aggregators, who in turn allow the data to be resold on the black market to anyone willing to pay. This practice continues, even though wireless carriers promised to end the practice last June.

On Thursday, AT&T and T-Mobile said they would end sales of location data by March. Verizon, meanwhile, said it was phasing out its last four partnerships.

Pallone isn’t the only lawmaker skeptical of these commitments. On Friday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., commended Pallone for “taking this critical first step towards creating real transparency and oversight of wireless carriers that misuse Americans’ data.” Wyden reiterated his call for Congress to pass his legislation banning carriers from selling mobile subscribers’ location data.

Pallone said the emergency FCC briefing should be held on Monday —  regardless of whether or not the federal government is still shut down.

“An emergency briefing is necessary in the interest of public safety and national security, and therefore cannot wait until President Trump decides to reopen the government,” he wrote. 

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