FTC fines wireless service providers for tracking consumers 

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

After an investigation, these companies were found guilty of tracking customers’ personal locations without consent and failing to protect the data. The FCC stated that the investigation began in 2018 when Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) raised the issue in a letter to the agency.

Securus, a communications provider for correctional facilities, informed a Missouri sheriff that major wireless providers had been sharing customers’ location information with third parties to track individuals’ whereabouts. Despite being notified of their misconduct, the companies did not take corrective action and instead tried to shift the blame to the third parties receiving the data.

The FCC said that the Communications Act protects consumers’ personal location information from wireless service providers. Additionally, wireless carriers are required to protect consumers’ personal information and obtain consent before using or sharing it.

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

According to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel: “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. As we resolve these cases, the Commission remains committed to holding all carriers accountable and making sure they fulfil their obligations to their customers as stewards of the most private data.” 

Loyann A. Egal, chair of the FCC Privacy and Data Protection Task Force added: “The protection and use of sensitive personal data such as location information is sacrosanct. 

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.”  

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