On May 6, it was reported that class-action lawsuits representing 300 million people were filed against AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Lawyers from Z Law are claiming the major wireless carriers violated federal law by selling consumer location data. The group claims the mobility giants harmed consumers by handing over their sensitive information to unregulated data aggregators.
The four lawsuits are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland to recognize all of the telecom customers between 2015 and 2019 as affected classes. If approved, Z Law would represent 100 million customers for both AT&T and Verizon and 50 million subscribers each for T-Mobile and Sprint.
The firm’s quartet of legal filings accuses America’s largest mobile phone service providers of violating the U.S. Communications Act. Section 222 of the Act requires carriers not to sell user data without customers’ expressed authorization. Each of Z Law’s lawsuits notes it will determine the amount of damages it’s seeking at trial.
How the Location Data Scandal Began
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon’s practice of selling off location data became public knowledge in May 2018. That month, the New York Times reported prison technology company Securus could locate most American mobile handsets within seconds. The firm gained that ability by using cellular location data obtained from the four major carriers.
After the Times piece was published, the Federal Communications Commission launched an investigation into the broker that sold data to Securus.
In June 2018, the nation’s leading wireless service providers vowed to stop selling consumer geographic info to third-party brokers. However, a January Vice piece found AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile were still in the data selling business. The publication found data aggregators were selling user location data to bounty hunters without authorization.
This March, the Federal Trade Commission began investigating how AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and other internet service providers use consumer data.
The Only Way to Win is Give Up
T-Mobile and Verizon had no comment about the class-action lawsuit when questioned by Ars Technica. Similarly, Sprint said it was reviewing the filing. However, AT&T adopted a more aggressive posture. The mobility titan vowed to fight the suit and called its claims baseless. The company also noted it stopped sharing user location data after misuse reports surfaced.
Though it’s too early to gauge Z Law’s chances of success, the firm certainly chose an ideal time to take on Big Mobility. Earlier this year, Sprint sued AT&T for rebranding their LTE AP network as 5G Evolution to mislead consumers. The rivals settled out of court but the public now knows AT&T isn’t always up front with its advertising.
Last month, Verizon subsidiary Yahoo offered users $117.5 million to settle an outstanding data breach case. The reason the search engine made the record offer is that it had emerged the firm delayed making a breach disclosure.
The mobile telecommunications industry has been reckless with its customers’ data recently. As a result, the reputation of the entire sector has been marred. With the field’s violation of user privacy well-documented, the big carriers will struggle to argue against liability. Given that a trial would further expose the Big Four’s business practices, they might be best served by adopting a strategy uncommon for a set of major corporations.
It’s in AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon’s best interest to eschew litigation and settle as quickly as possible.