Location Data

How Long Your Carrier Keeps Your Location Data

Location Data

The FCC revealed important numbers: How long carriers maintain customer location data.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel issued carriers and resellers questions about their data privacy rules; with an Aug. 3 deadline. Last week, the commission responded.

Focus on how long a cellular carrier stores historical cell site location information (CSLI); since cell towers must know your location to offer service (although one reseller named Invisiv is now marketing a solution that modifies your phone’s identification to evade long-term tracking).

Law-enforcement investigators didn’t need a warrant to collect CSLI from carriers until the 2018 Supreme Court case in Carpenter v. United States. Even with a higher barrier to government intrusion; location data remains a privacy issue.

AT&T’s response (PDF) reveals it still keeps this data longer than its two big rivals; specifying “a retention period of no more than 13 months for information that identifies the current or past location of a specific individual’s device and five years for historical call detail records; which include cell site location information.”
AT&T has Android smartphone makers install IQI software in device firmware that “passively collects device diagnostic and location data; including latitude/longitude information.”

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Verizon, Sprint, AT&T

T-Mobile’s response(PDF) The law mandates a 24-month retention period for CSLI and two years for emergency call geolocation data.

Verizon’s submission (PDF) cites a one-year retention term for CSLI but not emergency calls. It also cites “a small number of Verizon-branded apps for consumer mobile devices that obtain customer permission to collect device location data”
The FCC polled Google Fi, Consumer Cellular, and Mint Mobile. Their answers frequently said, “Talk to the company whose network we resell; they get location data and we don’t.”

Dish Network claims it saves cell-site data from its 5G network for two years; while Comcast preserves location data from mobile usage on its Wi-Fi hotspots for two years.

Our phones know much about us. Rosenworcel said in a press statement that carriers know who we are; who we call, and where we are. This data is sensitive. It’s a history of who we are.”

Rosenworcel has instructed the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau to investigate carrier compliance with privacy-disclosure rules and welcomes wireless users to share privacy complaints and concerns.

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