Wireless carriers illegally disclosed customer location data, FCC concludes

In January 2019, Motherboard reported that wireless companies were selling their customers’ location data to third-parties. The news followed demands by members of Congress to the FCC and FTC to investigate such practices. However, it took over a year for the FCC to conclude that at least one carrier broke the law. 

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel criticized her agency’s slow response. “For more than a year, the FCC was silent after news reports alerted us that for just a few hundred dollars, shady middlemen could sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data,” she said. “It’s a shame that it took so long for the FCC to reach a conclusion that was so obvious.” 

Traditionally, a customer’s location data was only shared with their consent or during emergency situations, such as roadside assistance. However, wireless companies, including T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T, were selling location data to aggregator companies without a warrant or disclosure to their customers. These aggregators then resold the information to third-parties that in turn sold them to bail bondsmen, landlords, credit check companies, and other entities. All four wireless companies pledged to stop the sale of their customers’ location information in 2018.

Links:

Carriers broke law disclosing customer location data, FCC says (Fierce Wireless, Feb. 3, 2020)

Wireless carriers caught red-handed selling customers’ location data (Speed Matters, Jan. 17, 2019)

FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel demands answers from wireless companies on their sale of customers’ phone location data (Speed Matters, May 5, 2019)