FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told congressional leaders Friday that his agency has completed an investigation into carriers’ sale of real-time location data, concluding that “one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law.” Pai said in letters to lawmakers he will propose one or more “Notice(s) of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture” in “the coming days.” He did not specify which carriers were implicated or what specific laws were broken.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), had pressed the Commission to wrap-up its investigation into location data sharing without user consent. He was one letter recipient, reported Reuters.
“Following our longstanding calls to take action, the FCC finally informed the Committee today that one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal privacy protections by turning a blind eye to the widespread disclosure of consumers’ real-time location data,” Pallone said in a statement. “This is certainly a step in the right direction, but I’ll be watching to make sure the FCC doesn’t just let these lawbreakers off the hook with a slap on the wrist.”
The FCC investigation was opened after a 2018 report in The New York Times detailed how service providers were giving data to third party aggregators. A security researcher said in 2018 that data from a California-based tech firm could have been used to track mobile consumers of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile US within a few hundred yards of their location and without their consent.
CTIA stated Friday that “carriers quickly investigated, suspended access to the data and subsequently terminated those programs,” when they became aware of the allegations, which the FCC started investigating in November.
“It’s a shame that it took so long for the FCC to reach a conclusion that was so obvious,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement Friday. “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.” She called the issue “chilling” and emphasized: “It puts the safety and privacy of every American with a wireless phone at risk.”
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