Written by Nick Heer.

FCC Announces Hilariously Inadequate Penalties Against Cell Companies for Allowing Third Parties Access to the Real-Time Location of Subscribers

The FCC, in a news release:

The Federal Communications Commission today proposed fines against the nation’s four largest wireless carriers for apparently selling access to their customers’ location information without taking reasonable measures to protect against unauthorized access to that information. As a result, T-Mobile faces a proposed fine of more than $91 million; AT&T faces a proposed fine of more than $57 million; Verizon faces a proposed fine of more than $48 million; and Sprint faces a proposed fine of more than $12 million. The FCC also admonished these carriers for apparently disclosing their customers’ location information, without their authorization, to a third party.


“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, 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,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “This FCC will not tolerate phone companies putting Americans’ privacy at risk.”

According to Pai, carriers have been encouraged to be extremely cautious of location data for thirteen years, yet they continued to sell third parties access to subscribers’ personal information including their real-time location.

In 2019, T-Mobile earned $34 billion in revenue, and will pay a $91 million fine for this egregious and obvious privacy violation. In 2018, the latest year for which information is available, the median household income in the U.S. was around $63,000. In scaled terms, that’s a fine of $168 and change. In 2019, AT&T earned $48.7 $181 billion; their $57 million fine, when scaled to household income, would be about $75 $20.

I’m sure they’ve learned their lesson.