House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices

House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices
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Top House Republicans are pressing the telecommunications industry about its handling of customer data following a report earlier this month that detailed how companies sell user location data to third parties.

The top GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint on Wednesday asking for details about the companies’ data-sharing agreements.

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“This practice of selling and sharing of location information through multiple entities potentially impacts hundreds of millions of American customers,” the letters read. “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.”

Motherboard, a tech news site, published a story earlier this month revealing how easy it is for certain professions, like bounty hunters, to obtain precise location information on mobile users with just a phone number, using data sold to third parties.

The Republicans — Reps. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 Republicans offer details on environmental proposals after Democrats roll out plan MORE (Ore.), Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersKoch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Lawmakers voice skepticism over Facebook's deepfake ban House Ethics Committee finds McMorris Rodgers misused official resources MORE (Wash.), Bob Latta (Ohio) and Brett GuthrieSteven (Brett) Brett GuthrieOvernight Health Care: Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat | House panel to examine federal marijuana policies | House GOP reopens investigation into opioid manufacturers Lawmakers express alarm over rise in cocaine overdose deaths House GOP reopens investigation into opioid manufacturers over role in crisis MORE (Ky.) — also sent letters to MicroBilt and Zumigo, two data aggregators named in the story.

“We’re reviewing the letter and look forward to working with Congress and other government entities to ensure consumer privacy is protected,” Sean Albert, a senior vice president at MicroBilt, said in a statement.

All of the mobile carriers have pledged in recent days to stop selling location data to third parties following the ensuing outcry from lawmakers.

Richard Young, a spokesman for Verizon, which was not named in the story, says that it had nearly ended all of its location data agreements.

“We will work with Representative Walden and other members of the House E&C committee on this inquiry,” Young said in a statement. “We take pride in our leadership efforts to date on this issue and we'll continue doing the right thing for our customers."

The other carriers were not immediately available to comment.

Democrats have turned their outrage on the GOP-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which they believe hasn’t done enough to police the industry.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, requested an emergency briefing from the FCC on the industry’s sales of location data, only to be rebuffed by the agency because it had ceased its operations due to the shutdown.

The Republicans sent lengthy lists of questions to all of the companies for details on their location data practices and asked for responses by the end of the month.

Updated at 2:41 p.m.