AT&T appeals fine imposed on it by the FCC for selling its customers' location data without consent

AT&T appeals fine imposed on it by the FCC for selling its customers' location data without consent
Last month the FCC fined the nation's "Big 3" wireless providers approximately $200 million combined for sharing the location of its customers with third-party platforms without consent. These platforms, known as aggregators, sell the data to their third-party customers who use the info to push out timely ads among other things. For example, did you ever walk past, say, a Sunglass Hut store and moments later receive a digital coupon for a pair of sunglasses? Did you stop in amazement wondering how the retailer knew where you are? This is how.

The investigation started in 2020 and in April 2024 the FCC spanked Verizon to the tune of $47 million. T-Mobile was fined $80 million and is also responsible for the $12 million that Sprint was ordered to pay since T-Mobile acquired Sprint after the investigation started. AT&T was ordered to pay $57 million.

According to Law 360, AT&T is appealing the $57 million fine that the regulatory agency imposed because of allegations that the nation's third-largest carrier failed to protect customer data. AT&T responded by calling the FCC's order an "abuse of discretion." The FCC spent years investigating the carriers to see whether they sold their own customers' location data to third-party firms, an action that FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called a failure to "protect the information entrusted to them."

The FCC investigation was the result of news reports that said wireless carriers were selling real-time location data to aggregators who sold location data to bail-bond companies and bounty hunters. In a statement last month, Rosenworcel said, "This ugly practice violates the law — specifically Section 222 of the Communications Act, which protects the privacy of consumer data." 

Yesterday, AT&T appealed to the Fifth Circuit calling the regulatory agency's actions "arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the law." The wireless provider insists that the location data at issue is not "customer proprietary network information" as defined in Section 222 of the Communications Act, which the FCC accuses AT&T of violating. While AT&T is the first of the "Big 3" to appeal the FCC's orders, both Verizon and T-Mobile said last week that it will also appeal the agency's action.

In a statement, AT&T said, "The commission's finding that AT&T acted unreasonably in discovering and protecting against unauthorized access to customers' location data is arbitrary and capricious, while the imposition of a $57 million penalty based on the existence of 84 distinct location-based-services providers (despite zero breaches by those providers) defies law and logic." The carrier says that the FCC's administrative proceedings "run afoul of the Constitution."

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