Posted on Oct 18, 2017 by Caleb Chen

How to stop your mobile phone number and location from being sold


mobile phone

Smartphone users are becoming aware that their phone number and location isn’t private when they use the internet on their data plans thanks to the selling of your mobile advertising id (MAID). According to Wired’s Andy Greenberg, it only costs $1,000 to track someone online. When you visit a website on your smartphone, both the site itself and advertisers on the site can view your mobile IP address which they can then tie to your mobike advertising id. Since the IP address is given by your telecom from the cell tower, your IP address when you’re using 4G or 3G will always be tied back to your billing information. While this makes sense from a security perspective, what doesn’t make sense is that companies around the world are able to take your mobile IP address, which is given away every single time you visit a website or use an app, and find out your full phone number, home address, email address, and even location (as given by the cell tower) because this information is readily sold by telecoms to third parties. This isn’t a supercookie, it simply works with your telecom provided mobile IP address – and changing it with a VPN like Private Internet Access.

How to keep your private information from being sold when using your smartphone: Change your smartphone’s IP address

Back in 2015, Verizon was stopped by the Federal Communications Commission from serving a super cookie that allowed similar always-on tracking to be deployed and used by advertisers. The past decision does seem to be keeping Verizon from doing the exact same thing; however, it seems that telecoms have realized that they already have a persistent method of tracking their users (the IP addresses they give our smartphones) – and an ability to sell corresponding billing information to eager advertisers. All they need to do is run a query. Up until last week, it was possible to see this for yourself by using one of two public facing demos of being able to find your information with just a mobile IP address – but they have since been taken down. It’s worth remembering that every telecom and internet service provider (ISP) in the world has this technical ability at the tips of their fingertips – this is not just an American problem.

How did they get my number?

The world is finally starting to understand the privacy sacrifices we make when using smartphones. The FCC is supposed to protect our internet privacy, but we know that is no longer the case. As the news has disseminated around the smartphone using population, many have connected the dots about why they’ve been receiving more and more spam calls on their phone numbers that they’ve never given out. One Redditor commented:

“Sprint does it too. Source: I started getting random phone calls from random ass places once I got with sprint.”

Another Redditor described the same issue on another American telecom’s service:

“I was with T-Mobile for years and would get 1-2 calls a month from scammers. I switched to Verizon and got them daily. Sometimes multiple times a day. I called Verizon only to have them try and sell me a call blocker service for $4.99/Mo. I downloaded a free can blocker app and have blocked 100+ numbers in 8 months…”

The solution is simple: Change your IP address to protect your privacy. Until legislation is passed that fixes this, makes it actually opt-in, or punishes the perpetrators, your privacy is at risk – especially since using WiFi isn’t necessarily a tenable alternative given the recent revelations of the WPA2 KRACK.

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About Caleb Chen

Caleb Chen is a digital currency and privacy advocate who believes we must #KeepOurNetFree, preferably through decentralization. Caleb holds a Master's in Digital Currency from the University of Nicosia as well as a Bachelor's from the University of Virginia. He feels that the world is moving towards a better tomorrow, bit by bit by Bitcoin.


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8 Comments

  1. Joe Blow

    Well, how is one supposed to change an IP address when the address is provided by the provider? This is a half asses write up if ever there was one….

    1 month ago
    Reply
    1. Caleb Chen

      Change your IP address by using a VPN :).

      1 month ago
      Reply
      1. Noname

        Using vnp = slower internet service plus you have to pay extra to have vnp

        1 month ago
        Reply
      2. Nope

        Using a VPN isn’t changing your IP address. That is using a service to mask your own IP and you don’t even explain how to do that in this article. Terrible man.

        1 month ago
        Reply
    2. Ron

      Basically you xan change your IP by using a VPN..aka virtual private network ….is a sale pitch in one way but only solution available for none savvy people

      1 month ago
      Reply
    3. Critically-thinking Human

      Huh. Well, Joe Blow, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the site on which this blog was written, could it? 🤔

      1 month ago
      Reply
  2. Marshall

    Using a solid VPN is definitely a necessary tactic, and I’ve been with PIA for years. But the conclusion, “until legislation is passed that fixes this,” is pipe dream. Legislation never fixes anything; it “solves” one problem by creating five more.

    Legislation is the mythical Hydra of Greek lore. To the extent you rely on legislation, that’s the extent to which you’ll be disappointed and kick the can down the road for a future generation to deal with (only worse).

    This is what Frederic Bastiat called the Broken Window Fallacy. A man breaks a window, and everyone observes how great it must be for the economy. With the broker window, a carpenter will now be paid to repair it. That carpenter then has more money to pay the baker, who will have more money to pay the tailor, etc. But the fallacy is that the observer is only looking at what he can immediately see; he isn’t thinking about the fact that the window owner now has less money to pay the blacksmith, who then has less money to pay the farmer, etc. Plus, the world also has one less window, and so is objectively poorer.

    This is what legislation does when it is expected to solve problems. It maybe works short-term, but makes things worse later. Only entrepreneurs can truly solve these problems. PIA is playing a role. Many others are playing a role. And many other solutions still probably haven’t even been invented yet. Unleash the forces of creativity. Innovate. Undercut the big corporations that won’t fix things by beating them at their own game, building a better product and taking their customers. Only rampant capitalism and innovation will fix the issue.

    1 month ago
    Reply
  3. Raimondas

    so there is solution how to stop? no explanation at all. change IP? how?

    1 month ago
    Reply