It’s rare these days to find someone who doesn’t have their mobile phone on hand, whether it’s in their pocket, their purse, or just within arm’s reach. However, keeping these devices close might also mean anyone can know where you are, any time.
Reports earlier this year of mobile carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T selling their customer’s location data to third parties caused severe backlash for many of these companies. Now, AT&T is also facing a class-action lawsuit based on alleged abuse of consumer data.
Wireless Providers Accused of Profiting from Invasions of Privacy
The suit, filed by the digital activism group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of three AT&T customers, focuses on the alleged misuse of the wireless company’s advanced location technology. The suit also names data aggregators LocationSmart and Zumingo as co-defendants.
Many wireless carriers use location data for legitimate purposes, such as fraud prevention or emergency roadside assistance. However, third-party buyers of this information can use it to track individuals - down to which floor of a building they are currently on.
Consumers were understandably uncomfortable with the idea of a third party being able to pinpoint their location, especially after an investigation by Motherboard revealed how easy it was for a bounty hunter to track someone’s phone.
In its complaint, EFF alleges that AT&T sold its customer’s real-time geolocation data to credit agencies, bail bondsmen, landlords and other third parties “without consent or legal authority.” EFF argues that the sale of location data violates not only state law, but also the Federal Communications Act.
Federal Protection of Data Privacy
The Communications Act of 1934, more commonly known as the Communications Act, prohibits telecommunications carriers from disclosing customer information unless required by law or with the customer’s permission. Incidentally, it also established the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates interstate communications whether by radio, TV, satellite or cable.
In response to reports that wireless providers were selling location data, an FCC official told Motherboard:
“It is absolutely chilling to think that a stranger can buy access to exactly where we are at any given moment by tapping into the data on our phones without our consent.”
AT&T reportedly ended all location data sharing in March of this year, but that wasn’t enough for EFF. The complaint calls the sale of access to geolocation data as an “outrageous and harmful” practice that puts consumers at risk of exposure to stalkers. And it appears they are not looking to give up the fight anytime soon.