FCC fines carriers $10 million for storing customer data in the open

Concerned-looking woman using an iPhone

The FCC usually frets over issues like fair network access and next-generation technology, but it's now concerned about your privacy, too. The agency has just issued its first fines over data security, slapping phone carriers TerraCom and YourTel with a total of $10 million in penalties for storing their customer info in the clear. FCC officials claim that both of the budget-oriented providers stored addresses, Social Security numbers and other vital data not just online, but in a format that just about anyone could read. Moreover, they didn't even notify all of their 305,000 combined customers after realizing what they'd done wrong -- potentially, thieves could have abused this mistake before victims knew they were at risk.

These kinds of fines aren't likely to be commonplace, but they could go a long way toward helping the FCC clean up its Lifeline program for low-income Americans. Regulators say they want carriers to foster a sense of trust in their subscribers, and that's particularly important for customers who may not have the luxury of switching networks in protest. There's no certainty that the fines will persuade other networks to lock down your info, but they might set an important precedent.

[Image credit: Getty Images/Flickr RF]