FCC Complaint Filed Against Telecommunications Giants Following Alleged Sale of Phone Location Data

Recent investigations have revealed that telecommunications companies have sold the real-time location data of their customers without the informed consent of the customers. In other situations, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint simply have allowed third parties to access the data, rather than actively selling it to them. As a result, a group of parties include the Open Technology Institute, Free Press, and the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology have filed an FCC complaint against those four telecommunications companies.

The complaint alleges that the actions of the telecommunications companies have put public safety at risk, thus violating Sections 222 and 201(b) of the Communications Act and FCC rules. This is because the third parties who were allowed to access the data include bounty hunters, stalkers, debt collectors, and other private parties who could cause harm to customers. Moreover, the telecommunications companies allegedly provided location data of customers to law enforcement without a warrant. This aided law enforcement in conducting unconstitutionally invasive searches.

The activist groups filing the complaint have cited two ways in which the telecommunications companies acted without the consent of customers. First, according to the complaint, the telecommunications companies sometimes gave the data of their customers to unauthorized third parties directly. The complaint also alleges that the companies sometimes gave the data to location aggregators, which are companies that would sell the data to unauthorized third parties. Both forms of alleged abuse are likely to have harmed disadvantaged parts of the population to a disproportionate extent.