AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile hit with $200M FCC fine for sharing user location data without consent

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile hit with $200M FCC fine for sharing user location data without consent

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a fine totaling $200 million to the nation’s four largest mobile carriers after concluding an investigation that found the companies illegally shared access to customers’ location data, the agency said Monday.

T-Mobile received the biggest fine of $80 million, along with a $12 million fine for its subsidiary, Sprint, that the company acquired in 2020. AT&T was fined more than $57 million and Verizon was fined almost $7 million, according to the agency’s announcement.

The fines follow initial allegations by the FCC in 2020 under the Trump administration of wireless carriers violating laws by not protecting users’ location data.

The mobile carriers pushed back on the allegations and said they intend to challenge the fine.

The FCC said the agency’s enforcement bureau’s investigation into the carriers found that each of them sold access to their customers’ location information to “aggregators” that went on to resell access to the information to third-party location-based service providers.

The FCC said the carriers “attempted to offload” their obligation to obtain customer consent to others, which led to not obtaining customer consent.

Mobile carriers are legally required to take reasonable measures to protect certain customer information, including location information, according to the FCC.

The FCC said the “initial failure” compounded when the carriers continued to sell access to location information without taking reasonable measures to protect it after they were made aware that safeguards were ineffective.

“Our communications providers have access to some of the most sensitive information about us. 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,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.

“As we resolve these cases – which were first proposed by the last Administration – the Commission remains committed to holding all carriers accountable and making sure they fulfill their obligations to their customers as stewards of this most private data,” she added.

All mobile carriers fined said they intend to appeal the decision.

“The FCC order lacks both legal and factual merit. It unfairly holds us responsible for another company’s violation of our contractual requirements to obtain consent, ignores the immediate steps we took to address that company’s failures, and perversely punishes us for supporting life-saving location services like emergency medical alerts and roadside assistance that the FCC itself previously encouraged.  We expect to appeal the order after conducting a legal review,” an AT&T spokesperson said in a statement.

A T-Mobile spokesperson also challenged the allegations and called the fine “excessive.”

“This industry-wide third-party aggregator location-based services program was discontinued more than five years ago after we took steps to ensure that critical services like roadside assistance, fraud protection and emergency response would not be disrupted. We take our responsibility to keep customer data secure very seriously and have always supported the FCC’s commitment to protecting consumers, but this decision is wrong, and the fine is excessive. We intend to challenge it,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Verizon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill, but told CNN in a statement it also intends to challenge the agency’s order.

“When one bad actor gained unauthorized access to information relating to a very small number of customers, we quickly and proactively cut off the fraudster, shut down the program, and worked to ensure this couldn’t happen again. Unfortunately, the FCC’s order gets it wrong on both the facts and the law, and we plan to appeal this decision,” Verizon said, according to CNN.

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