The Federal Communications Commission wants answers. Scratch that. The FCC wants fines. Today the FCC proposed more than $200 million in penalties from AT&T ($57 million), Verizon ($48 million), T-Mobile ($91 million), and Sprint ($12 million).
This is the conclusion of a probe into the Big Four cellphone carriers’ sharing of customers’ real-time location data, which is a violation of federal law. The Wall Street Journal reports that the carriers provided real-time feeds to data companies that included the locations of individual users. Some data companies, in turn, did not act ethically with that information. (This partially came out after a reporter from Vice paid a bounty hunter $300 to pinpoint the location of his T-Mobile handset.) The FCC concluded that the cell carriers failed to adequately protect customer data.
Laura Moy, associate director at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, told the WSJ that cellphone customers “have no choice but to share highly private information with a provider about everywhere they go. Carriers are not allowed to turn around and sell that location information to anyone with a phone number and a few dollars to spend. But this has been a widespread practice, and the FCC has been slow to rein it in.”
T-Mobile and Sprint are expected to complete their merger in the coming weeks, including 30,000 job cuts. The cellphone carriers are expected to dispute the penalties.