Feb 27, 2020 - Technology

FCC to propose fining wireless carriers for location sharing

Photo of FCC members at a House hearing with chairman Ajit Pai at far left
FCC commissioners, with chairman Ajit Pai at left, testify before a House committee in Dec. 2019. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The FCC plans to propose fines against wireless carriers totaling roughly $200 million for improperly sharing customers' location information with outside parties, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: Lawmakers and others have been calling for agency action for over a year after revelations that location data from AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint made its way to a resale market used by bounty hunters.

Details: The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the four major carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — would face proposed fines from the FCC, although the companies will be able to challenge the fines before they can be finalized.

  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) raised alarm bells in 2018 that wireless companies were sharing customers' location data with a phone service provider to prisons that allowed its clients to track cell phone locations.
  • Wyden called the proposed fines "comically inadequate" in a statement Thursday.
  • "Based on today’s news reports, it seems clear Chairman Pai has failed to protect American consumers at every stage of the game — this issue only came to light after my office and dedicated journalists discovered how wireless companies shared Americans’ locations willy nilly," Wyden said.

What's next: The proposed penalties are expected to be made public Friday. The agency and the wireless companies declined comment.

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