Location Data Was Shared Illegally, FCC Finds

The Federal Communications Commission's enforcement bureau has determined that “one or more” wireless carriers' practices for handling location data violated the law, Chairman Ajit Pai told Congress Friday.

Pai added he intends to circulate an order for fines.

“I am committed to ensuring that all entities subject to our jurisdiction comply with the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules, including those that protect consumers’ sensitive information, such as real-time location data,” he said in letters sent to 11 House members.

Pai didn't offer any other details, such as the size of the potential fine or the names of the carriers that unlawfully handled location data.

The move comes more than one year after publication Motherboard reported that the largest carriers sold customers' location data to aggregators and other third parties. Motherboard's report detailed how a reporter paid a “bounty hunter” $300 to track a phone's location to a neighborhood in Queens, New York.



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

Potential FCC fines aren't the only fallout from the revelations. The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation is also suing AT&T for allegedly violating the Federal Communications Act.

That law requires telecoms to preserve confidentiality of “customer proprietary network information” -- including location data they obtain via their role as carriers.

The digital rights organization is seeking a court order prohibiting AT&T from sharing their location data.

The telecom says the lawsuit should be dismissed, arguing that it stopped providing geolocation data to aggregators last March.

Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Aaron Mackey called Pai's letter to Congress “welcome news.”

“I'm very pleased that Chairman Pai has determined that this practice of disclosing customers' real time location data violates federal law,” he says. “We at EFF have been saying the same thing for quite a while.”

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