AT&T announced late last week that it will stop selling location data, following an investigation from multimedia publication Motherboard indicating that a bounty hunter (yes, bounty hunter) equipped with a few hundred bucks and a phone number can track down the phone’s owner within a couple blocks’ radius.
In the wake of Motherboard’s exposé, which follows a lawsuit filed against the IBM-owned Weather Company for its own data-sharing practices, federal legislators spoke of increased regulation of carriers in the near future as well as a potential investigation of this specific case of alleged misuse. Verizon and T-Mobile joined AT&T in saying they would soon wind down any remaining location-data sharing deals.
“In light of recent reports about the misuse of location services, we have decided to eliminate all location aggregation services — even those with clear consumer benefits,” AT&T said in a statement. “We are immediately eliminating the remaining services and will be done in March.”
AT&T had previously pushed back against pressure pertaining to data sharing by claiming that the practice actually benefited consumers in such cases as sharing data with roadside assistance providers. Now that the danger of data sharing across a vast corporate ecosystem has come to light and attention to that danger is increasing across the media and regulatory landscape, the telcos are taking the safer route, shutting down those deals entirely.
Joe Zappa is Street Fight’s managing editor.