T-Mobile Customers Fight To Keep Location Privacy Lawsuit In Court

T-Mobile customers who brought a class-action privacy lawsuit against the company are fighting to keep the battle in federal court.

In papers filed Monday, lawyers for the plaintiffs urged U.S. District Court Judge James Bredar in Maryland to reject T-Mobile's motion to send the battle over geolocation data to arbitration.

“This case must remain in a public forum,” they argued. “If proven true, the allegations of the complaint would uncover an industry-wide wholesale disregard toward subscriber privacy rights in exchange for additional quarterly profit.”

The legal battle dates to May, when T-Mobile customers Shawnay Ray and Kantice Joyner, both of Baltimore, alleged that the carrier violated the Federal Communications Act by disclosing geolocation data to third parties.

The suit came several months after the publication Motherboard reported that some carriers were selling customers' location data to outside parties.

Motherboard's article detailed how a reporter paid a “bounty hunter” $300 to track a phone's location to a neighborhood in Queens, New York.

The carrier for that phone was T-Mobile, which shared the location data with the aggregator Zumigo, which in turn shared the data with Microbilt. Microbilt then shared the information with a bounty hunter, who shared it with a bail industry source, according to the article.

Last year, it also came to light that an aggregator was selling location data obtained from carriers to law enforcement authorities who lacked warrants.

T-Mobile recently asked Bredar to send the customers' lawsuit to an arbitrator, arguing that its terms and conditions require arbitration of disputes.

T-Mobile argued that consumers are required to accept its terms and conditions in order to activate accounts, but have a 30-day window to opt out of the arbitration clause.

Lawyers for Ray and Joyner counter that T-Mobile's arbitration clause is “unconscionable,” and therefore unenforceable. 

“All four nationwide carriers, including T-Mobile, bury jury trial waivers, class action waivers, and mandatory binding individual arbitration agreements in there terms and conditions,” class counsel argued, adding that the plaintiffs, "and anyone in the United States who has cell phone service, had no choice but to agree to whatever terms and conditions the four major carriers foisted upon them.”

AT&T, Verizon and Sprint also are facing potential class actions over the sale of location data.

All four major U.S. carriers have said that they no longer sell location data.

Advocacy groups including the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and Free Press recently filed an informal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over carriers' privacy practices.

Those groups urged the FCC to prohibit wireless carriers from disclosing their customers' locations without consent.

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