FCC fines major US operators for illegal data sharing 


The fines were first proposed in February 2020 

This week, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined major US wireless carriers, including AT&T, Sprint (since acquired by T-Mobile), T-Mobile, and Verizon nearly $200 million for illegally sharing customer location information to third parties without their consent.  

According to the FCC, the carriers sold access to their customers’ location information to ‘aggregators’, who then resold the access to this information to third-party location-based service providers. 

This allowed “highly sensitive data to wind up in the hands of bail-bond companies, bounty hunters, and other shady actors,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. 

Under the Communications Act of 1934, carriers are required to take “reasonable measures” to protect certain customer information, which includes location information. 

“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,” said Rosenworcel in a separate press release. 

Specifically, the FCC fined T-Mobile $80 million, Sprint $12 million, AT&T $57 million, and Verizon $47 million.  

Although the FCC’s fines are significant, they represent just a tiny fraction of the operator’s annual revenues. Verizon’s $47 million fine, for example, is less than 1% of its total 2023 revenue, which was nearly $77 billion.  

T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon have stated that they strongly oppose the FCC’s findings, and all three companies intend to appeal the decision. 

 “[The FCC’s] decision is wrong, and the fine is excessive,” said T-Mobile in a statement. “We intend to challenge it.” 

AT&T similarly claimed that the fines lacked “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.” 

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