US telecoms regulator cracks down on sale of real-time location data

(Image credit: FCC)
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The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to take action against at least one of the country's wireless carriers over how it sold users' real-time location data without authorization.

The telecommunications regulator began its investigation into the matter following reports that a website flaw back in 2018 could have allowed the location of consumers' mobile phones to be tracked.

In a letter to Congress (opens in new tab), FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained that its enforcement bureau had concluded its investigation, saying:

“I am writing to follow up on my letter of December 3, 2019 regarding the status of the FCC’s investigation into the disclosure of consumers’ real-time location data. Fulfilling the commitment I made in that letter, I wish to inform you that the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has completed its extensive investigation and that it has concluded that one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law.”

Real-time location data

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also released a statement (opens in new tab) in which she criticized the FCC's handling of the matter, saying:

“For more than a year, the FCC was silent after news reports alerted us that for just a few hundred dollars, 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. It puts the safety and privacy of every American with a wireless phone at risk.”

According to Reuters (opens in new tab), a trade group representing wireless carriers in the US said that “upon hearing allegations of misuse of the data, carriers quickly investigated, suspended access to the data and subsequently terminated those programs”.

Pai also said that he plans to circulate a formal notice of liability to one or more carriers to the five-member FCC commission.

Via Reuters (opens in new tab)

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.