Wireless Carriers Face $200M Fine for Selling Location Data

According to reports, the FCC will fine wireless carrier giants AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile $200 million for selling customers’ location data to third parties without the phone users' consent.

by Geoff Herbert, Syracuse.com / February 28, 2020
Shutterstock/Tartila

(TNS) — Four major wireless carriers are facing fines for selling users’ location data to third parties, according to multiple reports.

Reuters reports the Federal Communications Commission plans to fine AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile a total of $200 million for making customers’ real-time location data available to third-party distributors without their consent. All four mobile providers were accused of the privacy violations last year and pledged to stop selling the data and cut ties with some “location aggregators," but the cell phone companies allegedly continued the practice and were hit with a class-action lawsuit in 2019.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said last month that “one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law.”

The Wall Street Journal reports the FCC is expected to notify the companies of liability asking for the fines on Friday. The four wireless providers are expected to challenge the penalties.

According to The Verge, AT&T defended the practice in May, calling data-sharing “an important feature commonly used by app developers to provide location services ... For example, ride-sharing apps use A-GPS to make sure the car shows up in the right location."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who previously spoke out against the wireless carriers for allegedly tracking users’ locations, criticized the FCC’s slow response.

“This issue only came to light after my office and dedicated journalists discovered how wireless companies shared Americans’ locations willy nilly,” Wyden told The Verge in a statement. “[Pai] only investigated after public pressure mounted. And now his response is a set of comically inadequate fines that won’t stop phone companies from abusing Americans’ privacy the next time they can make a quick buck.”

“It’s chilling to consider what a black market could do with this data,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel reportedly said in January. “It puts the safety and privacy of every American with a wireless phone at risk.”

©2020 Syracuse Media Group, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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