FCC Fines Top Wireless Providers Millions For Sharing User Location Data

(PatriotWise.com) — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Monday that it was fining multiple wireless carriers for sharing location data without its customers’ consent.

In an April 29 press release, the FCC said it levied nearly $200 million in fines against AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint for failing to protect customer information and illegally sharing “real-time location information” that revealed where their customers were located.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement that the data left in the “wrong hands” could provide those seeking to do harm with the “ability to locate us with pinpoint accuracy.”

Rosenworcel said news reporting had revealed that the country’s largest wireless providers had sold customer location information to “data aggregators.” The data then was sold to bounty hunters, bail bondsmen, “and other shady characters.”

According to the FCC, the practice violated the section of the Communications Act that protects a customer’s data privacy.

FCC officials began their investigation in 2019. Fines were initially proposed the following year but wireless carriers were given time to dispute the claims.

Investigators from the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau found that the carriers each sold customer location data to aggregators, who then sold the information along to third-party service providers, offloading the carrier’s obligation to first obtain consent from its customers.

According to the FCC, even after becoming aware that the safeguards in place were not effective, the carriers continued the practice without making the changes necessary to protect customers from unauthorized access to their location data.

AT&T, which was fined $57 million, pushed back against the FCC’s claims, saying in a statement that the FCC’s order lacked “legal and factual merit” and the agency was holding carriers responsible “for another company’s violation.”

The carrier said the FCC had ignored the steps AT&T had taken to address the issue and claimed that the FCC’s determination would also punish AT&T for supporting location services like roadside assistance and emergency medical alerts.

AT&T said it would appeal the FCC’s ruling.

T-Mobile was fined $80 million, while Sprint, which has since merged with T-Mobile, was fined $12 million. Verizon Wireless was fined $47 million.

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