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Security & privacy

Major wireless carriers sued for selling location data used by bounty hunters

Thanks to location services, your smartphone knows exactly where you are at all times. GPS is a handy tool to keep you from getting lost, but those location services are also great for companies that want to sell you things and other third-parties.

Along those lines, you might remember the shocking revelation from a few months ago, about major wireless carriers reportedly selling your real-time location data to third-parties that would, in turn, resell it to others.

From there, it could be bought by anyone including bounty hunters, bail bondsmen and debt collectors.

Those major carriers have now been hit by a class-action lawsuit, accusing them of violating federal laws. That means if you’re a customer of one of these wireless carriers and use location services, this suit potentially involves you.

Location services used against you

It was back in January when a Motherboard report emerged that AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint were still selling their customers’ location data, even after they said they had stopped. And with the help of some shady middleman, that data was bought from location aggregators and would end up for sale on the black market.

With that real-time data, anyone willing to pay a few hundred bucks could potentially locate any phone in the U.S. without you knowing about it.

That report caused quite the obvious uproar over privacy. For instance, a group of U.S. Senators called for an investigation, saying the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission need to find the extent of third-party access to wireless carrier customers’ location data. In an open letter, they said the wireless industry has repeatedly demonstrated a blatant disregard for customers’ privacy.

Now, a law firm is taking it to the next level. Late last week, they filed a massive class action lawsuit involving hundreds of millions of customers.

A lawsuit over your privacy

On Thursday, May 2, a consumer protection law firm in Maryland called Z Law filed a lawsuit in federal court against AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon, claiming they sold geolocation data and other personal information to third-party brokers in violation of federal law.

The complaints deal with a broker called Securus that reportedly, with data provided by wireless carriers, allowed law enforcement to track smartphones without a warrant. That included low-level law enforcement and bounty hunters.

The lawsuit covers about 300 million customers from April 30, 2015 to February 15, 2019. That includes about 100 million customers combined from AT&T and Verizon, and roughly 50 million for Sprint and T-Mobile. They’re seeking unspecified damages, meaning those numbers will be determined later in court.

Familiarize yourself with your location settings

As I mentioned, big tech loves to sell you things. That’s why location services are such a big part of targeted advertising.

Your smartphone is allowed to track and share your data based on permissions you previously granted. Data sharing is usually addressed somewhere in the never-ending privacy policies and agreements of different apps and other services.

Although the process isn’t exactly intuitive, you can keep both iPhones and Android smartphones from tracking you. Check out this report to find out how to modify your phone’s location settings, limit ad tracking, keep Google from knowing your every move along with a lot of other tips.

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