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03.05.20

FCC proposes fines for U.S. wireless carriers

BY Tevin Hopkins

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is cracking down on several wireless carriers by proposing millions of dollars in fines as a result of accusations that some of these companies have been improperly sharing customers' privacy information. Specifically, these companies, including AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, have been accused of sharing their customers' real-time geolocation information to third parties.

Multiple investigations have shown that some of these companies sold this information to "location aggregators." These location aggregators would act as middlemen, taking the data they had compiled and making it available to third parties.

In 2018, an investigation by Senator Ron Wyden found that this information made its way to Securus, a provider of phone services for prisons. Once in the hands of prison officials, this information could be used to track virtually all Americans. As a result of this report, several of the country's major wireless carriers ceased their relationships with these aggregators.

In 2019, more reports surfaced that, despite Senator Wyden's investigation, locations were still being shared through other outlets. These carriers then announced that they would cease all contracts with location aggregators, not just the ones described in Senator Wyden's report.

The FCC subsequently launched its own investigation into the matter, which resulted in its proposed fines. According to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the total potential penalties could add up to more than $200 million. Pai expressed that the FCC rules against this kind of behavior have been clear, and these companies have been on notice of them since 2007.

Critics within the FCC say that Pai is letting these carriers off too easily, arguing that the proposed fines are inadequate. In the FCC's proposal, it will start by imposing a base fine of $40,000 per day but reducing the liability of the carriers after the first day to a daily fine of $2,500. The number of days the carriers may be held liable has also been reduced.

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Tevin Hopkins

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