Award Winning Blog

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

I’m Not Buying the Plausible Deniability Gambit of AT&T Wireless

             AT&T Wireless has appealed the FCC’s $57 million fine for monetizing up to the minute subscriber location data that the company had no legal right to release, absent “opt in authorization from subscribers  The company’s primary defense relies on the deliberate strategy of ignoring the actual uses of the data by third parties of the two location information aggregators with which it sold the data.

             If even a few of the 300+ million wireless subscribers in the U.S. (see; fully understand how extensive their location data has been exploited, the court of public opinion would lash out vigorously against the wireless carriers.  This probably will not happen, because no one, other than the carriers and their information broker customers, will know the total revenues accrued and the extensiveness of the data exploitation.   

            Consider the efficacy of non-disclosure agreements, the lack of full evidence gathering by the FCC and reviewing courts, and attorney client privileges that block disclosure of how extensive the data selling was. AT&T is banking on the premise that because no one will ever know the breadth and value of the location data, no one can refute the company’s assertion that the FCC has overreacted to one minor incident that the company resolved years ago. AT&T wants us to believe that only one bad actor existed, the one identified by reporters of New York Times.  See  

            Arguably (in its most expansive context), we should accept AT&T’s premise that everybody else, including the massive number of third-party data location brokers and users, absolutely complied with any and all non-disclosure and anonymization requirements.  

            AT&T deliberately structured its disclosure of subscriber locations in a manner that insulated the company from knowing how the data was used by customers of the “Location-Based Services” the company provided two location information aggregators: LocationSmart and Zumigo.  See In legal terms, AT&T had direct, “privity of contract” with only two commercial ventures.  AT&T had every reason to insulate itself from knowing what its direct contractors did with the data, how much money they made, and how many location disclosure deals the two ventures cut with third parties.  

            No one should buy AT&T’s plausible deniability rationale that it’s possible that the thousands of the information aggregator clients did nothing wrong.

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