EMF Exposure from wireless devices is a vitally important reason why all technology users need to learn how to use their technology safely. Cellphones are especially important to know how to use safely since they have become like our second brain, filled with our personal data. See our class on Cellphone Safety for Smart Users for key training on this important topic.
And if that wasn’t enough, here is another lesser known reason to learn how to use your technology safely. Your cellphone is constantly beaming your location to the world, and your location data (as well as other user data of course) means huge profits for Telecom companies and the data aggregate companies they sell your location info to.
“Wireless carriers’ continued sale of location data is a nightmare for national security and the personal safety of anyone with a phone. When stalkers, spies, and predators know when a woman is alone, or when a home is empty, or where a White House official stops after work, the possibilities for abuse are endless.”
Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon
To outline the issues briefly we have collected these excerpts from an informative article by Motherboard Vice author Joseph (published Jan 8, 2019).
Your mobile phone is constantly communicating with nearby cell phone towers, so your telecom provider knows where to route calls and texts. From this, telecom companies also work out the phone’s approximate location based on its proximity to those towers.
Whereas it’s common knowledge that law enforcement agencies can track phones with a warrant to service providers, IMSI catchers, or until recently via other companies that sell location data such as one called Securus, at least one company, called Microbilt, is selling phone geolocation services with little oversight to a spread of different private industries, ranging from car salesmen and property managers to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, according to sources familiar with the company’s products and company documents obtained by Motherboard. Compounding that already highly questionable business practice, this spying capability is also being resold to others on the black market who are not licensed by the company to use it, seemingly without Microbilt’s knowledge.
Frederike Kaltheuner, data exploitation programme lead at campaign group Privacy International, told Motherboard, “it’s part of a bigger problem; the US has a completely unregulated data ecosystem.”
Although many users may be unaware of the practice, telecom companies in the United States sell access to their customers’ location data to other companies, called location aggregators, who then sell it to specific clients and industries. Last year, one location aggregator called LocationSmart faced harsh criticism for selling data that ultimately ended up in the hands of Securus, a company which provided phone tracking to low level enforcement without requiring a warrant. LocationSmart also exposed the very data it was selling through a buggy website panel, meaning anyone could geolocate nearly any phone in the United States at a click of a mouse.
There’s a complex supply chain that shares some of American cell phone users’ most sensitive data, with the telcos potentially being unaware of how the data is being used by the eventual end user, or even whose hands it lands in. Financial companies use phone location data to detect fraud; roadside assistance firms use it to locate stuck customers.
Microbilt buys access to location data from an aggregator called Zumigo and then sells it to a dizzying number of sectors, including landlords to scope out potential renters; motor vehicle salesmen, and others who are conducting credit checks. Armed with just a phone number, Microbilt’s “Mobile Device Verify” product can return a target’s full name and address, geolocate a phone in an individual instance, or operate as a continuous tracking service.
“You can set up monitoring with control over the weeks, days and even hours that location on a device is checked as well as the start and end dates of monitoring,” a company brochure Motherboard found online reads.
Read the full Motherboard article: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nepxbz/i-gave-a-bounty-hunter-300-dollars-located-phone-microbilt-zumigo-tmobile
Read full NY Times article: Senator Wyden’s protest to the FCC regrading Telecom’s selling of data for unauthorized (non-consented or illegal) uses: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/10/technology/cellphone-tracking-law-enforcement.html