Rumors earlier this week suggested that the FCC may fine all four major U.S. carriers over the sale of their customers' location data, and today the agency made those fines official.
The FCC is proposing fines against AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon because the carriers "apparently disclosed their customers' location information without their consent and continued to sell access to that information without reasonable safeguards."
In total, the FCC is fining the four carriers more than $208 million. T-Mobile is facing the largest fine which is more than $91 million, while AT&T is facing a proposed fine of more than $57 million. Verizon's fine is more than $48 million, and Sprint is being hit with a fine of more than $12 million.
The FCC explains that it began investigating the carriers after reports that a Missouri sheriff named Cory Hutcheson used a location-finding service from Securus to get the location data of wireless customers without their consent between 2014 and 2017. The investigation found that all four carriers sold access to their customers' location to aggregators who then resold it to third-party location-based service providers like Securus.
"Hutcheson’s unauthorized access of hundreds of wireless customers’ location information made clear that the carriers’ existing measures to safeguard this data were inadequate," explains the FCC. "Yet all four carriers apparently continued to sell access to their customers’ location information without putting in place reasonable safeguards to ensure that the dozens of location-based services providers acting on their behalf were actually obtaining consumer consent."
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai adds that his agency has long had rules requiring phone companies to protect their customers' personal info and that since 2007, the companies have been on notice that they must take reasonable steps to safeguard this data.
"This FCC will not tolerate phone companies putting Americans' privacy at risk," Pai says.
The FCC's allegations against the carriers and the corresponding fines are not yet final actions. The four carriers now have an opportunity to respond to the allegations and the FCC will then consider their evidence and arguments before taking further action.