Democracy Awards

Members Launch Bicameral Investigation Into Company Tracking, Collecting, and Selling Consumers’ Location Data

June 24, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC —Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Committee Member Mark DeSaulnier, and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden sent a letter to Venntel, Inc. launching an investigation into the collection and sale of sensitive mobile phone location data that reveals the precise movements of millions of American adults, teens, and even children. 

“We seek information about your company’s provision of consumer location data to federal government agencies for law enforcement purposes without a warrant and for any other purposes, including in connection with the response to the coronavirus crisis,” wrote the Members.  “The vast majority of Americans carry cell phones with apps capable of collecting precise location information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  This location-tracking raises serious privacy and security concerns.”

Recent reports show that a contact-tracing app recommended to residents by the governors of North Dakota and South Dakota sent location data to a third party—in violation of promises made to users.  According to that third party, the data was not used; nevertheless, this example shows that Americans may increasingly be unwittingly handing over their location data to unknown third party data brokers such as Venntel. 

Federal spending records also indicate that the Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Internal Revenue Service also may have obtained data or data services from Venntel.

“Federal, state, and local governments reportedly are using or considering the use of cell phone location data to track the spread of the coronavirus,” added the Members.  “With Americans installing contact-tracing apps as part of the effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, it has become increasingly important to make sure that the American public has a full understanding of who is collecting their location data, how it may be provided to the government, and what the government is doing with it.”

Reports also indicate that location data is vulnerable to hacking and that this data could lead to individuals being targeted for commercial or political purposes, stalking, or discrimination. 

The Members requested documents and information from Venntel by July 8, 2020.

Click here to read today’s letter.

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