US regulators moved to impose fines Friday against the nation’s four major wireless carriers for selling location data of customers without their consent.
The Federal Communications Commission proposed fining T-Mobile more than $91 million; AT&T some $57 million; Verizon $48 million, and Sprint $12 million.
The wireless firms were accused of having disclosed mobile network user location data to a third party without authorization from customers, the FCC said.
The FCC began an investigation after a report that a sheriff in Missouri used a “location-finding service” operated by a prison communications services company called Securus to track whereabouts of people including a judge and law enforcement officers.
The carriers provided access to customer location data to “aggregators” who then resold information to services such as Securus, according to the regulator.
“American consumers take their wireless phones with them wherever they go,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a release.
“And information about a wireless customer’s location is highly personal and sensitive.”
US telecom firms have been on notice for more than a decade that they are required to safeguard location data gathered about users, Pai added.
Sizes of the fines were based on how long carriers continued to sell customer location information without proper safeguards and how many parties had access, the FCC said.
The telecom companies will get to provide evidence and arguments to the commission before the fines are finalized.
Some privacy activists said the penalties failed to go far enough.
Lisa Hayes of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a digital rights organization, called the fines too little and too late.
“This kind of egregious privacy violation and the weak enforcement response by the FCC further demonstrate why the US needs a strong, comprehensive, national privacy law,” said Hayes.
“The current lack of a law means that anyone willing to spend a few hundred dollars can buy the location data of another person at any moment in time.”
Gaurav Laroia of the consumer group Free Press said the FCC action comes more than a year after activists filed complaints on these practices.
“Press reports surfaced over a year ago that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon were selling their customers’ real-time location information to data brokers,” Laroia said. “That information was then available on the open market, putting people in real physical danger.”
Sprint told AFP that it is reviewing the FCC’s notice regarding the proposed fine and had no comment other than to say it takes customer privacy seriously.
“When we learned that our location aggregator program was being abused by bad actor third parties, we took quick action,” T-Mobile said in response to an AFP inquiry.
T-Mobile added that it will dispute the FCC’s conclusions and the fine.
Verizon and AT&T did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump’s most unhinged supporters paying $5 a pop to use special emojis on YouTube
The pro-Trump cable network One America News is cashing in on QAnon conspiracy theorists on its YouTube channel.
OAN viewers can pay $4.95 a month to become "members" of the right-wing channel, which then allows them to use customized emojis to signal their recognition of the conspiracy theory's lore, reported The Daily Beast.
"It’s not clear how many people have signed up for the OAN YouTube membership, when OAN started offering the emojis, or how many of those sign-ups were driven by the opportunity to use QAnon emojis," writes The Beast's Will Sommer. "But the creation of the emojis reflects a decision to monetize, not expel, the conspiracy believers. If QAnon fans are going to spam QAnon in the OAN comments, it seems the network has decided they might as well get some money out of it."
Former federal prosecutor explains how AG Barr could help Trump steal the election — and take the US to ‘a very dark place’
Between the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest in major U.S. cities, huge anti-racism protests, bitter political divisions, a heated Supreme Court battle and President Donald Trump’s ruthless voter suppression efforts, the United States’ 2020 presidential election is turning out to be even more chaotic than the elections of 2000 and 1968. Trump has a devoted loyalist in U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade discusses the effect he could have on the 2020 election in a disturbing op-ed published in the Washington Post on September 22.