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Big Four carriers hit with lawsuits over location data (Update: Carrier statements)
Update, May 6, 2019 (01:45 PM ET): AT&T was the first carrier to send a statement to Android Authority regarding the lawsuit news below. Here is what the AT&T spokesperson had to say:
“The facts don’t support this lawsuit, and we will fight it. Location-based services like roadside assistance, fraud protection, and medical device alerts have clear and even life-saving benefits. We only share location data with customer consent. We stopped sharing location data with aggregators after reports of misuse.”
Additionally, T-Mobile issued AA the same statement it issued Motherboard: “We can’t comment on pending litigation.”
We will update this article if we receive word from Sprint or Verizon on this matter.
Original Article, May 6, 2019 (12:26 PM ET): Back in January, Motherboard exposed that pretty much anyone with some cash and the right connections could obtain the precise, real-time location data of T-Mobile, Sprint, or AT&T wireless customers. In a separate investigation, the same publication found that Verizon customers could also be similarly tracked.
Now, it looks like a company has filed class action lawsuits against each of the Big Four U.S. carriers over this location data scandal.
Although the lawsuits don’t request specific damages, they could potentially cost the Big Four millions of dollars each. Now that the lawsuits are filed, they will be looked over by a judge or judges to determine what the next steps should be.
The location data scandals all revolve around third-party services which legally obtained customer information from the carriers for seemingly-legitimate reasons, the majority of which involve tracking smartphones of company employees. However, this location data was then sold to separate organizations which then sold it to other people, most notably bounty hunters. As part of the investigation, Motherboard was able to track its own smartphone to an exact position by giving a bounty hunter $300.
Since these scandals broke, the Big Four have all resolved to stop selling location data to any third-party companies, even the legitimate ones. T-Mobile and AT&T have allegedly already stopped the practice, while Sprint and Verizon have supposedly yet to complete the transition.
After the scandal broke, 15 U.S. Senators asked the FCC and FTC to hold a special hearing on the problem. However, Ajit Pai — chairman of the FCC — refused the request.
We contacted each of the Big Four carriers for comment on this story but didn’t hear back before press time.