FCC Questions Mobile Carriers Over Location Privacy

Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel is questioning wireless carriers about their policies regarding customers' location data.

“Given the highly sensitive nature of this data -- especially when location data is combined with other types of data, the ways in which this data is stored and shared with third parties is of utmost importance to consumer safety and privacy,” Rosenworcel stated Tuesday in letters to AT&T, Charter and 13 other large companies offering mobile broadband service.

The letter comes as privacy advocates and Democratic lawmakers are increasingly concerned that law enforcement officials in states that prohibit abortion will draw on location data to prosecute abortion seekers.

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, paving the way for states to outlaw abortion. Already, several states have done so.

The court's move has led to new scrutiny for numerous companies that have access to people's locations -- including Google, various data brokers, apps and wireless carriers.

Rosenworcel is asking the mobile companies to describe their geolocation data practices -- including what kind of data is collected and retained, the reasons for its collection, and whether subscribers can opt out. She also asks the carriers to detail their policies regarding sharing geolocation data with third parties, including law enforcement.

In 2020, the FCC proposed fining T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon more than $200 million for allegedly selling customers' location data to aggregators and other third parties.

The FCC said at the time that its investigation found that all four carriers sold access to location data to aggregators, which resold it to outside companies. (T-Mobile and Sprint later merged.)

The four companies said in 2020 that they no longer sold location data.

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