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Your phone carrier knows where you are right now.
Most likely, so do several other companies because your phone carrier sold your number and real-time location information.
This might sound like a terrible accident, but it’s not. Your information is purposely sold for a monetary profit. One would think the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be enforcing strict punishments, but as you’ll read, their response is underwhelming. It’s up to wronged customers to fight for themselves.
Keep reading to learn how.
Who Can Obtain Your Number & Location
With the endless forms you enter your phone number into, it’s challenging to determine who is selling your phone number and who is buying it. A sold number can result in spam calls, but while these calls are annoying, they hold little real danger. More concerning is that people can buy access to your real-time location. In this situation, we know that the access initially came from your phone company or a third-party company that bought it from them.
Law enforcement is one of the most popular
groups to try and gain people’s locations. While most courts agree police need
to give phone carriers a warrant to access someone’s current location, they
don’t need to learn your location directly from phone companies anymore. They
can obtain it from third parties who bought it from your phone carrier.
Major phone companies, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint all sold your data to the company Location Smart. 3CInteractive buys that data and Securus gets it data from them. Securus, a prison technology company, has a service that lets law enforcement locate the majority of American cell phones in seconds. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only companies selling your data and police officers aren’t the only group buying it.
Zumingo also sells phone data to companies, such as Microbilt, who then sells it to more companies. In one situation, given just $300 and a phone number, a bounty hunter was able to find a reporter’s phone location from a bail bond company that bought their data from Microbilt. At this point, it’s impossible to know just how many companies have access to your location at any given time.
The Government’s Response to Phone Carriers
Currently, in response to public backlash, the FCC has suggested tentative fines for the phone carriers who have sold your data. These fines range between $12 million and $91 million depending on how many companies they sold users’ locations to and how long they sold it “without reasonable safeguards.” However, the FCC is anything but unbiased.
Remember, one of the phone companies at fault is Verizon. The head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, used to work for Verizon and is largely favorable to them. You might remember Ajit Pai as the person who repealed net neutrality. Charging multi-billion dollar companies a few million dollars, when they already make a significant amount for selling your data, is unlikely to change much.
Plus, customers of these phone carriers (the ones whose information was sold) are unlikely to personally receive any amount from these fines. If the FCC won’t properly fight for the public’s privacy, people will have to fight on their own.
How Consumers Can Fight Back
There are two main ways customers whose information was sold can fight back. The first is by being vocal and informing others of the privacy violations we continue to face. Do your research about this issue and share articles with others. The more angry people yelling at the FCC, the more likely they are to take real action instead of asking phone carriers to give them chump change and call it even.
When phone carriers mess up, the other option is always to take legal action. Don’t be afraid to hire arbitration against phone companies for any of their wrongdoings. If their advertisements were inaccurate or they lied about a price you would receive, speak up. The overall lack of transparency from phone carriers is the overarching problem.
Nobody should know your current location unless you’ve given them permission to know. Privacy is a fundamental right and many phone carriers have violated that right. The FCC’s response is insufficient, so it’s up to the rest of us to take action. Be vocal about the deception by phone carriers and don’t hesitate to fight back. Once your privacy is gone, it’s much harder to get it back.