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Privacy Tip #173 – Cell Phone Geolocation Data Being Sold

We previously cautioned that telephone companies sell customer data to third parties, including location data [view related posts here]. Last year, the telecom industry pledged to stop the practice after pressure by members of Congress.

Earlier this month, Joseph Cox of Motherboard released I Gave a Bounty Hunter $300. Then He Located Our Phone and outlined how he gave the individual his phone number and the individual (called a bounty hunter) was able to find the “current location of most phones in the United States.” When he did so for Mr. Cox, the bounty hunter was able to locate the phone within a few blocks of where the individual was located.

According to Mr. Cox, “The bounty hunter did this all without deploying a hacking tool or having any previous knowledge or the phone’s whereabouts. Instead, the tracking tool relies on real-time location data sold to bounty hunters that ultimately originated from the telcos themselves…” The article is fascinating and can be accessed here.

It is better to read it than for me to try to give it justice, but the thing I want to know is whether your location can be tracked if your location based services are turned off? I would love for someone to send me the answer, as I am a big fan of only using location based services when absolutely necessary (like when using ride-sharing apps or navigation). This is a tip to consider, particularly after reading the article.

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About this Author

Linn F. Freedman, Robinson Cole Law Firm, Cybersecurity and Litigation Law Attorney, Providence

Linn Freedman practices in data privacy and security law, cybersecurity, and complex litigation. She provides guidance on data privacy and cybersecurity compliance to a full range of public and private clients across all industries, such as construction, education, health care, insurance, manufacturing, real estate, utilities and critical infrastructure, marine, and charitable organizations. Linn is a member of the firm's Business Litigation Group and chairs its Data Privacy + Cybersecurity Team. She is also a member of the Financial Services Cyber-Compliance Team (CyFi ...