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The FCC will hit phone carriers with a $200 million fine over location sharing

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is going to hit the big four U.S. phone carriers with a fine totaling $200 million for selling people’s location data. 

AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile will have the chance to dispute their fines, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. The FCC hasn’t officially announced anything yet, but the agency is expected to make the announcement, with details on final numbers, on Friday, February 28. 

That $200 million fine would reportedly be split four ways between the companies, so if they are all fined the same amount, each will end up having to pay $50 million. 

Just last month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, revealed that the FCC concluded an investigation into mobile phone carriers. He said that “one or more wireless carriers” have been found to have violated federal law as it relates to the exposure of consumers’ real-time location data.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel issued a statement shortly after Pai’s announcement last month, saying that the “safety and privacy of every American with a wireless phone” was put at risk. 

“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,” she said. “Millions and millions of Americans use a wireless device every day and didn’t sign up for or consent to this surveillance.

After reports from The New York Times and Motherboard surfaced in 2018 about phone carriers abusing location data by selling it to bounty hunters, landlords, and other third parties, the FCC launched an investigation into the practices of the top carriers. Verizon reportedly stopped sharing cellular location data in 2018, and AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile followed in early 2019. 

Digital Trends reached out to the FCC to comment on the fine, but haven’t yet received a response. We also reached out to AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile to comment, and we’ll update this story when we hear back. 

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