UPDATE: On February 28, 2020, the FCC proposed over $200M in fines against the wireless carriers.
On January 31st, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai transmitted a letter in response to a prior inquiry from a number of House members regarding the status of the Commission’s investigation into reports that the major wireless carriers were allegedly disclosing consumers’ real time geolocation data to data aggregators. The aggregators were, in turn, were selling location-based data and services to other companies or individuals, purportedly without the mobile user’s knowledge or consent. In the letter, Chairman Pai stated that the agency had completed its investigation and concluded that at least one carrier had violated federal law. Pai also stated that he and his fellow commissioners will be considering possible penalties against “one or more” carriers, which can contest any Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture.
Public awareness and general scrutiny over the collection, selling and packaging of geolocation data has heightened in recent years. The issue has earned the attention of both federal and state regulators and legislatures. Regardless of the outcome of the FCC’s enforcement in this matter, entities that rely on anonymized geolocation data for analytical products and services should be aware of the focus in this area.