Your wireless carrier may have been tracking you without telling you


T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T, and Sprint now face a $200 million fine

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a collective $200 million fine for the country’s biggest wireless service providers – T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint – for their mishandling of consumers’ personal data. 

After a years-long investigation, the companies were accused of tracking customers’ personal locations without consent and without taking any measures to protect the data. 

“Our communications providers have access to some of the most sensitive information about us,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “These carriers failed to protect the information entrusted to them. Here, we are talking about some of the most sensitive data in their possession: customers’ real-time location information, revealing where they go and who they are. 

“As we resolve these cases, the Commission remains committed to holding all carriers accountable and making sure they fulfill their obligations to their customers as stewards of the most private data.”  

Failure to protect consumers

The FCC explained that this investigation began back in 2018 when Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) first wrote a letter to the agency about this issue. 

Securus, a communications, provider for correctional facilities, told a Missouri sheriff that the leading wireless providers had been sharing customers’ location information with third parties to track individuals’ whereabouts. 

While the companies were notified about their wrongdoing at the time, nothing changed. The wireless providers have tried to offload responsibility onto the third parties receiving the data.   

Consumer protections

The FCC noted that the Communications Act protects consumers’ personal location information from wireless service providers. On top of that, wireless carriers have the duty to not only protect consumers’ personal information, but they must also get consent from customers before using or sharing that information. 

“The protection and use of sensitive personal data such as location information is sacrosanct,” said Loyann A. Egal, chair of the FCC Privacy and Data Protection Task Force. “When placed in the wrong hands or used for nefarious purposes, it puts us all at risk. 

“Foreign adversaries and cybercriminals have prioritized getting their hands on this information, and that is why ensuring service providers have reasonable protections in place to safeguard consumer location data and valid consent for it is of the highest priority for the Enforcement Bureau.”  

Under the FCC’s latest rule, AT&T has been fined over $57 million, Verizon was fined nearly $47 million, and Sprint and T-Mobile, which have since merged, have been fined $12 million and $80 million, respectively. 

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