Sprint becomes the last major US carrier to stop selling location data

The carrier joins T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T in ending a practice criticized as an invasion of privacy.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
3 min read
Sprint Nextel Announces 29 Billion Dollar Quarterly Loss

Sprint announces it's ending location-data sharing.

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Every major carrier in the US has now decided to stop selling location data to third parties. 

Sprint is the final company to put the nail in the coffin with its announcement Wednesday that it's ending the practice.

"Last year we decided to end our arrangements with data aggregators, but assessed that the negative impacts to customers for services like roadside assistance and bank fraud alerts/protection that would result required a different approach," a company spokeswoman said in a statement. "We implemented new, more stringent safeguards to help protect customer location data, but as a result of recent events, we have decided to end our arrangements with data aggregators." 

The telecoms carrier joins competitors T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T, which also decided to completely end their location data sales by March. Sprint didn't set the same deadline but said it would "end these arrangements in the next several months." 

The shift comes after an investigation published last week by Motherboard showed that the safeguards to protect customer location data weren't working. While mobile carriers said that they were only providing location data with customers' consent and only to trusted parties for purposes like roadside assistance, Motherboard found that anyone could still access this data. 

On Wednesday, Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce committee sent letters to all major carriers, as well as Zumigo and Microbilt, the two data aggregation companies caught abusing location data from mobile carriers. 

The letters demanded answers on who these companies have shared Americans' location data with, and what steps they've taken to protect people's privacy.

"We are deeply troubled because it is not the first time we have received reports and information about the sharing of mobile users' location information involving a number of parties who may have misused personally identifiable information," the members wrote in the letters.

Considering that you take your phone everywhere, it's essentially a tracker that logs your every move. While mobile carriers have access to that data, many lawmakers consider it an invasion of privacy to sell this information. 
Before ending such sales, mobile carriers defended this practice, saying that sharing this data had legitimate purposes like preventing bank fraud. 
While the companies have decided to end this practice on their own, some lawmakers are still skeptical. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey and chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, requested that the Federal Communications Commission ensure these companies follow through with their promises
On Monday, FCC Chair Ajit Pai declined to meet with the committee, stating that the concerns are "not a threat to the safety of human life or property that the FCC will address during the Trump shutdown."
The FCC said it's been investigating the practice but had to suspend the probe because of the federal government shutdown.

First published at 8:22 a.m. PT.
Update at 8:54 a.m.: Includes mention of letters from members of the House Energy and Commerce committee.

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