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These surveillance capabilities are sometimes sold through word-of-mouth networks.


Motherboard granted the source and others in this story anonymity to talk more candidly about a controversial surveillance capability. Got a tip? Your mobile phone is constantly communicating with nearby cell phone towers, so your telecom provider knows where to route calls and texts.

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.

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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. Financial companies use phone location data to detect fraud; roadside assistance firms use it to locate stuck customers. T-Mobile shares location data with an aggregator called Zumigo, which shares information with Microbilt.

Microbilt shared that data with a customer using its mobile phone tracking product.

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Use any capable device—your phone, tablet, or computer—to keep track of Only the approximate location (the nearest cell tower) of iOS (Apple) devices on. i need to locate the other phone thats on my account. how do i do that.

The bounty hunter then shared this information with a bail industry source, who shared it with Motherboard. 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.

Posing as a potential customer, Motherboard explicitly asked a Microbilt customer support staffer whether the company offered phone geolocation for bail bondsmen. That price gets even cheaper as the customer buys the capability to track more phones. But there is also an underground market that Motherboard used to geolocate a phone—one where Microbilt customers resell their access at a profit, and with minimal oversight.

And here we are: there's an unregulated black market where bounty-hunters can buy information about where we are, in real time, over time, and come after us. The bail industry source said his middleman used Microbilt to find the phone. It may not necessarily be enough to geolocate someone to a specific building in a populated area, but it can certainly pinpoint a particular borough, city, or neighborhood.

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In other cases of phone geolocation it is typically done with the consent of the target, perhaps by sending a text message the user has to deliberately reply to, signalling they accept their location being tracked. This may be done in the earlier roadside assistance example or when a company monitors its fleet of trucks. But when Motherboard tested the geolocation service, the target phone received no warning it was being tracked.

The bail source who originally alerted Microbilt to Motherboard said that bounty hunters have used phone geolocation services for non-work purposes, such as tracking their girlfriends. Motherboard was unable to identify a specific instance of this happening, but domestic stalkers have repeatedly used technology, such as mobile phone malware, to track spouses. As Motherboard was reporting this story, Microbilt removed documents related to its mobile phone location product from its website. A Microbilt spokesperson told Motherboard in a statement that the company requires anyone using its mobile device verification services for fraud prevention must first obtain consent of the consumer.

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Microbilt also confirmed it found an instance of abuse on its platform—our phone ping. It was also reported that a LocationSmart bug could have allowed anyone to surreptitiously track the real-time whereabouts of cell phone users. At the time, US Sen. Ron Wyden D-Ore. Today, Wyden said he's disappointed that carriers are apparently still selling location data to data brokers. Further Reading Proposed data privacy law could send company execs to prison for 20 years.

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We also contacted T-Mobile and Sprint about the Motherboard article today and will update this story with any responses we get. Sprint told Motherboard that it "does not have a direct relationship with MicroBilt" and "will take appropriate action" if it determines that any customers violated contractual requirements. We do not knowingly share personally identifiable geo-location information except with customer consent or in response to a lawful request such as a validated court order from law enforcement.

We are investigating this matter and it would be inappropriate to comment further until that process is complete.

T-Mobile told Motherboard that it "will not tolerate any misuse of our customers' data. While T-Mobile does not have a direct relationship with MicroBilt, our vendor Zumigo was working with them and has confirmed with us that they have already shut down all transmission of T-Mobile data. T-Mobile has also blocked access to device location data for any request submitted by Zumigo on behalf of MicroBilt as an additional precaution. We're doing it the right way to avoid impacting consumers who use these types of services for things like emergency assistance.

It will end in March, as planned and promised.

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If things go south just leave. Sign in to Google Maps at maps. This app has become so popular in the recent past due to its wide range of desirable features. I receive notifications quick and it's nice not to have to pull my phone out every time I get an email first world problems. Parents are constantly worried about the safety and whereabouts of their kids no matter whether the kids are young or adult. Works great for my 6 year old. 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.

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