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FCC To Crack Down On Sharing Of Mobile Users’ Location Data

Wireless networks that sold their customers’ real-time location data violated U.S. law, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai wrote in a letter to Congress on Friday (Jan. 31).

The letter indicates that the FCC’s enforcement bureau “has concluded that one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law.”

Pai said “a formal notice of liability” affecting at least one wireless firm would be sent by him to the five-member FCC commission.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said it was a “shame” the FCC took so long to act. “It’s chilling to consider what a black market could do with this data,” she added.

Pai’s letter continued, “I am committed to ensuring that all entities subject to our jurisdiction comply with the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules, including those that protect consumers’ sensitive information, such as real-time location data.”

A trade group representing U.S. wireless carriers told Reuters that “upon hearing allegations of misuse of the data, carriers quickly investigated, suspended access to the data and subsequently terminated those programs.”

In 2018, a security researcher said that it was possible “data from a California-based tech firm” tracked the mobile users of numerous carriers without their consent.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said in 2018 that he told the FCC that wireless firms were selling location data “to a shady prison phone company” that was allowing prison guards to track Americans’ cell phones. 

Wyden said on Friday (Jan. 31) that he was “eager to see whether the FCC will truly hold wireless companies accountable, or let them off with a slap on the wrist.”

Jeff Glueck, the CEO of the location data company Foursquare, wrote in an October opinion article that the industry needs regulation. Glueck said that phone apps, for example, should not be able to access customer data without saying specifically how it will be used.

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