FCC Launches Investigation Into Cellphone Companies

August 25, 2022 by Madeline Hughes
FCC Launches Investigation Into Cellphone Companies
(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez via UnSplash)

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission is launching an investigation into how the country’s top cellphone providers use geolocation data.

“Our mobile phones know a lot about us. That means carriers know who we are, who we call, and where we are at any given moment. This information and geolocation data is really sensitive. … That’s why the FCC is taking steps to ensure this data is protected,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement Thursday.

She asked the commission’s Enforcement Bureau to look into if the companies are compliant with current rules about disclosing how they use geolocation data. This comes after the chairwoman received responses from the top 15 cellphone carriers to questions about how they handle this sensitive information.

She also published the responses from those companies along with her statement.


In most of the letters, each company points to its policies outlining data collection.

In her questions, Rosenworcel referred to a report by the Federal Trade Commission that detailed how “several [internet service providers] in the study gather and use data in ways consumers don’t expect and could cause them harm.”

Verizon doesn’t give out individualized location data to anyone but law enforcement and emergency services, wrote William Johnson, senior vice president of Federal Regulatory and Legal Affairs.


However, it does use an aggregate for marketing purposes, he wrote.

“In addition, Verizon aggregates certain location information to create aggregate reports, which then may be shared with third parties as part of our Business and Marketing Insights program. Subscribers are notified about the Business and Marketing Insights program via the online privacy policy, as well as a bill message notification they receive on their first bill,” Johnson wrote.

Joan Marsh, executive vice president of Federal Regulatory Relations at AT&T, also describes how the company uses geolocation information to provide its services, prevent fraud, improve service and provide advertising.

“In addition to first-party marketing of AT&T Mobility’s own products and services, AT&T Mobility postpaid customers can choose to participate in Relevant Advertising … , which is an opt-out advertising program, and Enhanced Relevant Advertising … , which is an opt-in advertising program,” Marsh wrote. 

In her letter, Marsh pushed back on the FTC report and Rosenworcel’s line of questioning, saying that the company doesn’t use the information improperly.

“We value our customers’ trust. Our commitment to customers’ privacy and the security of their personal information — including location information — is unwavering,” Marsh wrote. “We accordingly note our strong disagreement with the unfair characterizations made in the Federal Trade Commission’s Staff Report on the privacy practices of internet service providers … and vigorously contest the factually and legally flawed — and, as yet, unresolved — determinations made in the Notice of Apparent Liability regarding location-based services.”


Rosenworcel and the FCC are asking consumers to send in their complaints as the investigation unfolds. 

Madeline can be reached at [email protected] and @MadelineHughes

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