Customer Location Data- The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today proposed fines of more than $200 million against the nation’s four largest wireless carriers for selling access to their customers’ location information without taking adequate precautions to prevent unauthorized access to that data. While the fines would be among the largest the FCC has ever levied, critics say the penalties don’t go far enough to deter wireless carriers from continuing to sell customer location data.
The FCC proposed fining T-Mobile $91 million; AT&T faces more than $57 million in fines; Verizon is looking at more than $48 million in penalties; and the FCC said Sprint should pay more than $12 million.
An FCC statement (PDF) said “the size of the proposed fines for the four wireless carriers differs based on the length of time each carrier apparently continued to sell access to its customer location information without reasonable safeguards and the number of entities to which each carrier continued to sell such access.”
The fines are only “proposed” at this point because the carriers still have an opportunity to respond to the commission and contest the figures. The Wall Street Journal first reported earlier this week that the FCC was considering the fines.
The commission said it took action in response to a May 2018 story broken by The New York Times, which exposed how a company called Securus Technologies had been selling location data on customers of virtually any major mobile provider to law enforcement officials.
That same month, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that LocationSmart — a data aggregation firm working with the major wireless carriers — had a free, unsecured demo of its service online that anyone could abuse to find the near-exact location of virtually any mobile phone in North America.
In response, the carriers promised to “wind down” location data sharing agreements with third-party companies. But in 2019, Joseph Cox at Vice.com showed that little had changed, detailing how he was able to locate a test phone after paying $300 to a bounty hunter who simply bought the data through a little-known third-party service.