FCC says carriers broke the law by selling customer location data

Ajit Pai FCC Chairman

Following a report from one year ago that detailed how easily someone could pay to get the location data of a customer of a major U.S. wireless carrier, the FCC has determined that carriers have broken the law.

In a letter to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says that an investigation has concluded that “one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law.” The investigation examined the disclosure of consumers’ real-time location data.

“I am committed to ensuring that all entities subject to our jurisdiction comply with the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules, including those that protect consumers’ sensitive information, such as real-time location data,” Pai went on to say in his letter.

The FCC Chairman doesn’t go into any details on exactly which carriers were found to have broken the law or what punishment they’ll face. However, he does say that he will circulate a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture to the other FCC Commissioners in the coming days.

A report from January 2019 found that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint customer location data could be easily purchased from a third party. For example, one T-Mo phone was located by paying $300 to a bounty hunter. 

After this information came out, the carriers pledged to become more rigorous about how it handled customer location data and who could get access to that info. T-Mobile said that it was completely ending location aggregator work, and Sprint said that it was cutting ties with the companies through which that location data was accessed.

Now the FCC has concluded what it describes as an “extensive investigation” and determined that one or more carriers did indeed break the law by being so lax with customer location data. We’ll just have to wait and see what kind of punishment those carriers are hit with.

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