AT&T Faces Backlash Over Selling Customer Location Data But Claims It Acted Legally

AT&T is the second largest wireless carrier in the United States with millions of customers under its umbrella. But the company is now coming under fire for its decision to sell location data pertaining to its wireless customers. While AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have all said they stopped selling phone location information to other companies, AT&T has announced that it wasn't illegal for it to sell the data. AT&T is claiming it did nothing wrong, just as the FCC has started an investigation into the practice.


The telecom giant has argues that its sale of assisted GPS or A-GPS data that is used with 911 location services doesn't violate U.S. law. The reason it may have violated U.S. law is that carriers are barred from using data in the National Emergency Address Database or NEAD for anything other than 911 purposes. AT&T has argued that its sale of A-GPS data wasn't illegal because A-GPS data isn't part of the NEAD.

AT&T says an example is a ridesharing app using A-GPS data to be sure the car shows up at the right location. AT&T's claim that A-GPS data isn't in the NEAD was confirmed by the CTIA wireless lobby group, the organization that actually created the NEAD. AT&T may not have run afoul of FCC prohibitions on NEAD data, but it may run into issues for violating Section 222 of the Communications Act. That provision states that phone companies may not use or disclose customer location information without prior express authorization of the customer. The FCC investigation intends to determine if the sale of A-GPS data violated Section 222.

AT&T has faced plenty of unwanted attention in recent months, thanks to a class action lawsuit over alleged bait and switch pricing practices with DirecTV. AT&T also got hammered when tests showed that its shady 5G E service was slower than the competition's 4Gnetworks.

Tags:  GPS, Privacy, FCC, (NYSE:T), at&t