Location sharing

FCC Imposes Multi-Million Dollar Fines on Wireless Carriers for Unauthorized Location Sharing

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has levied significant fines against leading US wireless carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon following an investigation revealing the unauthorized sharing of customers’ personal location data without consent.

The fines, totalling millions of dollars, come after allegations dating back to 2020, where the FCC accused these carriers of improperly disclosing users’ geolocation data to third parties, including prisons, as part of their commercial operations.

The practice under scrutiny involved the sharing of user location information with data resellers, commonly referred to as “location aggregators,” who then disseminated the data to their own third-party clients.

Despite assurances to discontinue this practice after media reports and a congressional inquiry brought attention to the issue in 2018, carriers continued the activity for nearly a year, or even longer in some instances, before ceasing, according to the FCC.

AT&T faces a fine of $57 million, Verizon nearly $47 million, Sprint $12 million, and T-Mobile $80 million. Notably, Sprint and T-Mobile merged in 2020.

In response, all carriers indicated their intention to appeal the FCC’s decision, citing legal and factual discrepancies. AT&T criticized the order, emphasizing its proactive measures to address violations by third-party entities and its commitment to supporting essential services like emergency medical alerts and roadside assistance.

Verizon underscored its dedication to safeguarding customer privacy, highlighting swift action taken to address unauthorized access and terminate the program. Similarly, T-Mobile asserted the discontinuation of its location data-sharing program over five years ago and pledged to challenge what it deemed an excessive fine.

The investigation gained traction in 2018 when Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s probe revealed that cellphone location information had been misused by Securus, a provider of prison phone services. Wyden commended the FCC’s actions, emphasizing the importance of holding companies accountable for compromising customer privacy and security.

The FCC’s enforcement underscores the critical need for robust safeguards to protect consumer data privacy in an era of increasing digital connectivity and technological innovation.

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