Once a Phone Company, Always a Phone Company

February 12, 2019

American life is not complete without the media generating some form of fear. The newest craze scaring people from the airwaves is their location data. PPC Land reports the story in, “Carriers Are Only One Source Used By Data Aggregators, And This Source Is Now A Threat In The US.” One way that mobile phone providers make a profit is selling their customers’ information to advertisers and other third party agencies. Among the user information sold is a customer’s location.

It sounds banal at first—your location is sold, then ads for specific products and services near you pop up on your mobile device. Then the Big Brother syndrome and privacy fears kick in. The big stink is that bounty hunters can use customers’ data to track targets down to their specific location. Yes, that is scary, but how many people have bounty hunters stalking them?

Mobile phone carriers assure customers that their safety and privacy are top priority. Roadside assistance is referenced as one way specific location information is used. The FCC and Congress are abuzz about this threat, but how are phone providers really selling the information?

“Mobile Carriers use data aggregators to monetize location data. Verizon has contracts with LocationSmart and Zumigo. Verizon says the location data used by the location aggregator programs are limited to coarse (rather than precise) location information. Coarse location information is derived from the Verizon network and is significantly less accurate than a precise location. Precise information are usually from GPS, and is obtained with apps installed on mobile phones (like maps, or car services).”

But mobile phone providers are not the only ways to track an individual’s location: cell IDs, Wifi, beacons, landlines, carriers, beacons, SDKs on apps that use locations, GSIDS, and IP addresses are all used to track location. Phones are a handy device.

Whitney Grace, February 12, 2019

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