The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is set to propose fining four major U.S. mobile phone companies at least $200 million in total for improperly disclosing some consumer real-time location data, two people briefed on the matter said on Thursday.
The FCC is expected to announce the proposed fines on AT&T, Verizon Communications, Sprint and T-Mobile by Friday. The companies will be able to challenge the fines before they become final and the precise amount could change - and possibly increase - the sources said.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed in January that "one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law." The FCC and the carriers did not immediately comment.
The FCC said in May 2018 it was investigating reports that a website flaw could have allowed the location of mobile phone customers to be tracked. That probe expanded into other uses of consumers' location data by third-party firms.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in January it was a "shame" the FCC took so long to act on what she called reports that "shady middlemen could sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data." She added, "It’s chilling to consider what a black market could do with this data."
A trade group representing U.S. wireless carriers said in January that "upon hearing allegations of misuse of the data, carriers quickly investigated, suspended access to the data and subsequently terminated those programs."
Lawmakers last year expressed outrage that aggregators were able to buy user data from wireless carriers and "selling location-based services to a wide variety of companies" and others, including bounty hunters.