Telecommunication Providers Fined $200 Million by FCC

It is expected on Friday that T-Mobile U.S. Inc, Sprint Corp, Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc will learn of proposed fines against them by the FCC. It is also expected that all will challenge the fines and that could see the amount of the fines change, but initial estimates suggest they will be in the $200 million mark.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC in January confirmed: “one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law.” It was May of this year that the FCC said it was undertaking investigations based on reports that a flaw in a website could have permitted people to locate a mobile phone and track it. Initially focused on a handful of communication companies, it eventually expanded to include third-party firms.

Many Carriers offer Location-Data Programs

Most carriers allow the use of programs for location-data to assist with medical emergencies, human trafficking, fraud protection and roadside assistance. Jessica Rosenworcel, the commissioner for the FCC, stated that it was a shame this took so long before the FCC became aware that “shady middlemen could sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data”, before adding “It’s chilling to consider what a black market could do with this data.”

One trade group that represents U.S. wireless carriers in January said: “upon hearing allegations of misuse of the data, carriers quickly investigated, suspended access to the data and subsequently terminated those programs.” The result was multiple lawmakers expressing their outrage that others could purchase user data and then sell that information to a broad range of companies or even bounty hunters.

One of those who expressed their outrage, Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, said that the reports suggest that  Pai “failed to protect American consumers at every stage of the game” before adding “this issue only came to light after my office and dedicated journalists discovered how wireless companies shared Americans’ locations willy nilly.” Wyden stated that any fine that could have been imposed will be less and it is doubtful that it will “stop phone companies from abusing Americans’ privacy the next time they can make a quick buck.”