The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed hefty fines on some of the country's biggest operators for allegedly violating federal laws by profiting from collecting and selling real-time user location data.
A fine of over $200 million could be levied on the likes of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, all of whom stand accused of putting user privacy at risk.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had confirmed in January that “one or more” carriers were suspected of violating federal law of sharing real-time user data and would be penalized if so.
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The FCC had been investigating a website flaw which allowed mobile phones to be tracked real-time. The probe, however, ended up investigating a larger issue where these operators were found selling user data to different clients including law enforcement agencies, bounty hunters, tracking services and even alleged stalkers.
It is said that these carriers misused the programs like roadside assistance, logistics, medical emergency alert services, human trafficking alerts and fraud prevention which empower them to access user’s live location.
Following a public outcry, the cellular operators discontinued such Location Based Services (LBS) and stopped selling user data to third parties from May 2019.
"Shady middlemen could sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data. It’s chilling to consider what a black market could do with this data." FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in January.
T-Mobile, which is soon going to merge with Sprint, may face the largest fine among these carries, but since the companies will have a chance to challenge the penalty, the final amount may differ.
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