U.S. Carriers Facing $200M in Fines for Selling Customer Location Data

As expected, the United States Federal Communications Commission today proposed fines against the four major wireless carriers in the United States for improperly sharing and selling real-time customer location information without taking "reasonable measures" to protect against unauthorized access to the data.


In a statement [PDF] released today, the FCC says that T-Mobile should pay the most, while Sprint should pay the least. T-Mobile faces a proposed fine of more than $91 million, while the FCC wants AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint to pay over $51 million, $48 million, and $12 million in fines, respectively.

The fines vary based on the length of time that each carrier sold access to its customer location information without safeguards and the number of entities to which each carrier sold access.

Along with the proposed fines, the statement from the FCC admonishes the four carriers for disclosing customer location data without authorization to third-party entities.

"American consumers take their wireless phones with them wherever they go. And information about a wireless customer's location is highly personal and sensitive. 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," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. "This FCC will not tolerate phone companies putting Americans' privacy at risk."

All four of the major U.S. carriers sold customer geolocation information to data aggregators like LocationSmart and Zumigo, with those companies then reselling the data to third-party location-based service providers. The data was ultimately provided to law enforcement officials, bounty hunters, bail bondsman, and more.

The FCC says that though exact practices varied, each carrier relied heavily on contract-based assurances that the location-based services providers they worked with would get consent from the customer before accessing the customer's location information, which did not happen.

Carriers had "several commonsense options to impose reasonable safeguards," but ultimately "failed to take the reasonable steps needed to protect customers from unreasonable risk of unauthorized disclosure."

The fines proposed by the FCC today are not final and each carrier will be provided with an opportunity to respond and provide evidence and legal arguments before final fines are imposed.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
7 months ago
Why is this not a $2B+ fine?
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago
Since 2007 these carriers have been on notice says FCC? 13 years ago. The fines, $12-$91M are nothing to these companies. Tax write off. What a joke. CEO’s should be facing prison time if USA is serious about stopping this type company behavior.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago
Can't wait for all of our cellular bills increasing!
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago
It's ironic that a government agency is fining carriers for providing our personal information to other government agencies, while still other government agencies are demanding that device manufacturers hand over the keys to your personal information. Too bad we can't sic the FCC on those agencies too.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago


Why is this not a $2B+ fine?

Highly effective lobbyists and the low moral standards of the Legislative Branch. Oh, and enough cash changing hands to ensure a lot more cash doesn't have to change hands.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
7 months ago
So they charge us up the yin yang for services AND sell our data! Great......
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Here's How You Can Download iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 Around the World [It's Out]

Wednesday September 16, 2020 2:36 am PDT by
Apple's official public release of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 dropped on Wednesday, September 16, just a day after the company released the Golden Master to third-party developers. Also set to be made available to the general public for the first time are watchOS 7 and tvOS 14. Getting Started With iOS 14 Video Click image to watch iOS 14 Getting Started While that's left a lot of developers...

When Will the iPhone 12 Launch? Here's What We Know

Wednesday September 16, 2020 6:12 am PDT by
Yesterday's "Time Flies" Apple event saw the release of the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, iPad 8, and iPad Air 4, but no new iPhone models. Rumors before the event strongly alleged that it would not see the unveiling of new iPhones, with many reports pointing to an October launch. The lack of new iPhone models yesterday seems to confirm that the iPhone 12 lineup will not appear...

Apple Releases iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 With Home Screen Redesign, App Library, Compact UI, Translate App, Scribble Support, App Clips, and More

Wednesday September 16, 2020 12:48 pm PDT by
Apple has released iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, the newest operating system updates designed for the iPhone and iPad. As with all of Apple's software updates, iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 can be downloaded for free. iOS 14 is available on the iPhone 6s and later, while iPadOS 14 is available on the iPad Air 2 and later. The updates are available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To ...

Apple Releases Safari 14 for Mac Ahead of macOS Big Sur Launch

Wednesday September 16, 2020 1:40 pm PDT by
macOS Big Sur didn't launch alongside iOS 14, iPadOS 14, tvOS 14, and watchOS 7 today, with the update coming later this fall, but Apple did release the Safari 14 update for macOS Catalina and macOS Mojave users. Safari 14 brings improved performance, customizable start pages, a Privacy Report to see which cross-site trackers are being blocked, and a new tab bar design that provides tab...

Apple Updates AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro Firmware to Version 3A283

Monday September 14, 2020 11:24 am PDT by
Apple today released new 3A283 firmware updates for the second-generation AirPods and the AirPods Pro. The second-generation AirPods are being updated from the 2D15 firmware they were previously running, while the AirPods Pros are being updated from the 2D27 firmware they had installed previously. Apple does not provide details on what's included in refreshed firmware so we don't know what's ...

iOS 14 Picture in Picture No Longer Working With YouTube's Mobile Website in Safari [Without Premium]

Friday September 18, 2020 12:21 pm PDT by
Apple in iOS 14 added Picture in Picture to the iPhone, a feature designed to let you watch a video in a small screen on your device while you continue to do other things on the phone. When Picture in Picture was working with YouTube The YouTube app doesn't support Picture in Picture, but up until yesterday there was a functional workaround that allowed videos from YouTube.com to be watched...

Hands-On With the New Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE

Friday September 18, 2020 1:19 pm PDT by
Today's the official launch date for the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE, both of which Apple announced on Tuesday. We picked up a couple of the new models and thought we'd give them a quick look for MacRumors readers thinking of ordering a new watch. Apple Watch Series 6 & Apple Watch SE Hands-On! When it comes to design, both the $399 Series 6 and the $279 SE look just like...

iOS 14.2 Beta Adds New Shazam Music Recognition Feature for Control Center

Thursday September 17, 2020 3:36 pm PDT by
Apple today released the first beta of iOS 14.2 to developers for testing purposes, and the new update introduces a Music Recognition control for the Control Center. The new feature lets you discover music playing around you and it recognizes the music playing with in apps, even when you're wearing AirPods. Songs pop up as notifications, and you can tap to listen in Apple Music....

8 Third-Party Home Screen Widgets That You Can Try Out Now on iOS 14

Wednesday August 5, 2020 12:56 pm PDT by
One of the biggest new features of iOS 14 is Home Screen widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. The widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. When the iOS 14 beta was first released in June, widgets were limited to Apple's own apps like Calendar and Weather, but several third-party developers have begun to test ...

Apple Releases watchOS 7 With New Watch Faces, Family Setup, Sleep Tracking, Handwashing Help and More

Wednesday September 16, 2020 12:47 pm PDT by
Apple today released watchOS 7, the newest version of the watchOS operating system designed to run on modern Apple Watch models. The watchOS 7 update comes after several months of beta testing. ‌watchOS 7‌ can be downloaded for free through the dedicated Apple Watch app on the iPhone by going to General > Software Update. To install the new software, the Apple Watch needs to have at...