The Federal Communications Commission on Friday proposed $200 million in fines against the big four U.S. mobile carriers for allegedly selling customers' location data, which T-Mobile said it "fully intends to dispute."
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The FCC sent four respective notices of apparent liability (NALs) to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint informing them of potential penalties for failing to protect customer location data by selling it to third-party companies.
The commission has not made a final decision on the fines and said it would listen to the carriers' responses.
"We take the privacy and security of our customers' data very seriously," a T-Mobile spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement. "When we learned that our location aggregator program was being abused by bad actor third parties, we took quick action. We were the first wireless provider to commit to ending the program and terminated it in February 2019 after first ensuring that valid and important services were not adversely impacted."
"While we strongly support the FCC's commitment to consumer protection, we fully intend to dispute the conclusions of this NAL and the associated fine," the spokesperson added.
T-Mobile faces the biggest proposed fine of the four carriers at $91 million. AT&T faces a proposed fine of more than $57 million; Verizon faces a proposed fine of more than $48 million; and Sprint faces a proposed fine of more than $12 million, the FCC announced.
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|VZ||VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS INC.||52.77||-0.77||-1.44%|
Sprint told FOX Business in a statement that it is committed to protecting user privacy and is reviewing the NAL, but the company has not commented further. Verizon and AT&T did not immediately share their responses to the NALs with FOX Business.
The FCC's investigation began after various outlets reported that Missouri Sheriff Cory Hutcheson used phone-tracking technology from disgraced communication firm Securus to access mobile phone users' location data between 2014 and 2017 without the warrants necessary to do so. The FCC is alleging that all four mobile carriers sold this information to aggregators like Securus.
The issue of sharing location data with third parties without customer consent has become one of concern since mobile phone users began to realize that location data, which is always visible to networks when a customer uses data instead of Wi-Fi, can reveal sensitive information about individual schedules and even medical visits.
"American consumers take their wireless phones with them wherever they go. And information about a wireless customer’s location is highly personal and sensitive," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.
"The FCC has long had clear rules on the books requiring all phone companies to protect their customers' personal information. And since 2007, these companies have been on notice that they must take reasonable precautions to safeguard this data and that the FCC will take strong enforcement action if they don't. Today, we do just that. This FCC will not tolerate phone companies putting Americans’ privacy at risk," he said.
Pai informed House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone in a January letter that an investigation by the commission found "one or more" mobile carriers were selling customers' real-time location data to other parties.
AT&T was hit with a lawsuit in July for allegedly sharing customers' location data.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on civil liberties as they relate to technology, and law firm Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht filed a lawsuit in California Tuesday on behalf of three AT&T wireless customers against telecoms giant and two other companies alleging they allowed numerous people to track cellphone users' whereabouts without authorization.
AT&T said in a statement to FOX Business that it stopped sharing location data with aggregators after reports of misuse. Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have shared similar statements, according to a January report by TechCrunch.
This article contains material from a previous FOX Business article.