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Class-Actions Say Cell Phone Companies Sold Your Location Data

Young business woman paying with credit card on smart phone at home office
By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 08, 2019

Lawyers filed class-action complaints against the major cell phone companies for allegedly selling customers' location data to third parties.

The complaints were filed in a federal court in Maryland against AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. In four separate cases, the plaintiffs make the same allegations. Together, the lawsuits allege the carriers sold the data of more than 300 million customers without their consent.

The cell phone companies have not answered the complaints yet, but the issue is consent. AT&T told ArsTechnica that the company shares location data of customers for good reason. Roadside assistance, medical device alerts, and fraud protection are location-based services, the company said. "We only share location data with customer consent," a representative said. "We stopped sharing location data with aggregators after reports of misuse."

Last year, those reports prompted cell phone companies to promise they would not sell customers' location information without their consent. Among other privacy concerns, a third-party had enabled law enforcement officers to locate most Americans through their cell phones. In response, Sen. Ron Wyden then demanded AT&T explain itself. He also urged the Federal Communications to look at the problem. In the class-actions, the plaintiffs say the cell companies should have learned their lesson.

Communications Act

Plaintiffs allege the companies violated the Communications Act, which requires cell phone carriers to have "express prior authorization of the customer" before using or disclosing location information. Last week, the FCC sent letters to the four carriers about the issue. Commission member Jessica Rosenworcel also faulted the agency for not acting on it. "The Federal Communications Commission has said it is investigating, but -- almost a year after this news first broke -- the agency has not provided the public with any details," she said in an announcement. "Nor has it taken any public action to ensure this activity has stopped."

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