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Phone carriers have been selling your data, now there’s a class action lawsuit

Customers want to take back control of their data.

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint are facing a class action lawsuit in the US District Court of Maryland for their alleged sale of subscribers’ real-time phone locations to third parties – described as “data brokers” in an Ars Technica report.

The four lawsuits filed last week target these major US wireless carriers, alleging that the companies infringed on their users’ privacy by giving the geolocation data gathered from their phones to third parties – who would then be able to sell this data. This happened “with little or no oversight by AT&T” – the lawsuit targeting this company, and very similar to others, said, according to the report.

The lawsuit asks the court to rule to give compensation to plaintiffs who claim they incurred damages from the carriers’ “failure to safeguard highly personal and private consumer geolocation data in violation of federal law.”

If class action status is granted, the lawsuit would cover AT&T, and its three US counterparts – Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint – representing over 300 of their customers from 2015 until 2019, the report said.

As for the compensation claim – its amount should be “proven at trial,” the filing said.

The proposed class-action suit comes a year after these four major US carriers said they would halt the very practice now cited in the legal push – namely, providing third-party entities, such as US prison phone company Securus, with data from their services.

A security issue at the time revealed the practice – and that US law enforcement officers were, thanks to that, able to pinpoint “most American cell phones within seconds,” the report said.

Earlier in the year, Vice reported that the four major US mobile carriers continued to sell location data, despite promises to the contrary – allowing this information to fall into the hands of “bounty hunters and others not authorized to possess it” – and in the process, allowing these entities to “track most phones in the country.”

Ars Technica said that the sale of 911 location data is illegal in the US – but that the carriers named in the lawsuit appear to have done it anyway.

Responding to the Ars Technica article, AT&T said the lawsuit had no legal grounds, and that they would fight it. T-Mobile and Verizon chose not to comment.

The website noted that in March, the Federal Trade Commission began investigating privacy practices employed by major mobile and ISP companies.

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