FCC Fines on Carriers Blasted as Too Little, Too Late

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UPDATE After the FCC action on Friday afternoon issuing fines totaling $200 million against the major carriers, critical reactions followed from Capitol Hill. T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon were docked by the FCC for selling customers’ location data to companies that allowed it to be misused. Various law enforcement service providers were sold access to the data violating its confidentiality.

“Instead of meeting its obligation to come down hard on the wireless carriers that are guilty in this case, the FCC dragged its feet and issued penalties that let these companies off easy,” said Sen. Edward Markey, (D-MA) in a press release.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), issued a statement critical of the FCC’s late action on the vote saying the inquiry into abuse of the data “only [began] after public pressure mounted,” and that the FCC was issuing,“a set of comically inadequate fines that won’t stop phone companies from abusing Americans’ privacy the next time they can make a quick buck.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “American consumers take their wireless phones with them wherever they go. And information about a wireless customer’s location is highly personal and sensitive. The FCC has long had clear rules on the books requiring all phone companies to protect their customers’ personal information. And since 2007, Pai said, “these companies have been on notice that they must take reasonable precautions to safeguard this data and that the FCC will take strong enforcement action if they don’t. Today, we do just that.”

At a Congressional inquiry in January of 2019, AT&T and T-Mobile said then that they would stop selling all location data from mobile phones to brokers by March of that year. T-Mobile says it took “quick action” after it learned its location-data program was being abused and ended the program in February 2019. The company said it plans to dispute the FCC’s conclusions and fines.

The FCC said fines will be assessed accordingly:

  • T-Mobile: $91 million

  • AT&T: $57 million

  • Verizon: $48 million

  • Sprint: $12 million

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