MASTERCLASSING

Four major phone carriers could be facing multiple class-action lawsuits

Alyssa Clementi


Customers of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint are threatening to file 4 separate class-action lawsuits against the service providers, claiming the companies illegally collected real-time location data and sold it to third parties. The lawsuits would be filed on behalf of the customers by the Maryland Z Law Firm, who took the complaints to the US District Court for the District of Maryland.

“This action arises out of Defendant's collection of geolocation data and the unauthorized dissemination to third-parties of the geolocation data collected from its users' cell phones,” introed one of the proposed lawsuits. “AT&T admittedly sells customer geolocation data to third-parties, including but not limited to data aggregators, who in turn, are able to use or resell the geolocation data with little or no oversight by AT&T. This is an action seeking damages for AT&T gross failure to safeguard highly personal and private consumer geolocation data in violation of federal law.”

The classes involved would include all four carriers’ customers in the US, between 2014 and 2019, totaling around 300m people. Broken down, 100m of those customers come from Verizon, another 100m from AT&T, 50m from Sprint, and the remaining 50m from T-Mobile. The classes haven’t yet released the specific amount of damages they are seeking.

The class-action lawsuits stemmed from a broken promise in 2018, when all four carriers said they would stop selling their customers real-time location data to third parties after a security breach involving Securus. It was discovered that Securus, which produced prison phones, was offering law enforcement officers a service to track almost any phone in America.

Although all four carriers claimed they immediately stopped the mining and selling of location data, in 2019 it was found that "T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T are [still] selling access to their customers' location data and that data is ending up in the hands of bounty hunters and others not authorized to possess it, letting them track most phones in the country."

"The facts don't support this lawsuit, and we will fight it," said AT&T, the only carrier involved to release a comment. "Location-based services like roadside assistance, fraud protection, and medical device alerts have clear and even life-saving benefits. We only share location data with customer consent. We stopped sharing location data with aggregators after reports of misuse."

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