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FCC proposes fines for phone companies that shared user data

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. regulators have proposed fining the four major U.S. phone companies more than $200 million combined for improperly disclosing customers’ real-time location to other companies.

The proposed fines by the Federal Communications Commission amounted to $91 million for T-Mobile, $57 million for AT&T, $48 million for Verizon and $12 million for Sprint. The amounts vary based on how long each company sold the user data and how many companies and organizations it sold the data to. The phone companies can object, and the amounts could change.

Critics said the FCC took too long, and the proposed fines were too low.

“Instead of meetings its obligation to come down hard on the wireless carriers that are guilty in this case, the FCC dragged its feet and issued penalties that let these companies off easy,” said Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Lisa Hayes of the advocacy group Center for Democracy & Technology said the FCC’s “weak enforcement response” demonstrate why the U.S. needs a comprehensive privacy law.

Location data makes it possible to identify the whereabouts of nearly any phone in the U.S. within seconds.

According to published reports, phone companies were selling access to such data to little-known companies such as LocationSmart and Zumigo. These data brokers then sold the information to other “location-based” services, like prison-communications company Securus. The FCC said the phone companies failed to ask customers for consent for what companies like Securus were doing, or make sure that those companies were getting an OK from customers.

The FCC action deals with phone companies’ practice of providing data to third parties with whom users have no direct contact. It’s unrelated to users sharing locations directly with apps and other services.

Federal law requires that telecommunications companies protect the confidentiality of some customer data, including location information. The FCC said that those companies must try to protect against unauthorized attempts to gain access to this data and that they or those acting on their behalf must get consent from customers before using it.

The FCC opened its investigation after a 2018 report showed Securus allowing such abuses as letting a sheriff track a judge and others, thanks to information that ultimately came from data broker LocationSmart.

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile pledged to stop providing information on U.S. phone owners’ locations to LocationSmart, Zumigo and other data brokers later that year. But Congress questioned in early 2019 why sharing by some carriers seemed to have continued.

, as detailed in a Motherboard report about bounty hunters gaining access to the data in January 2019.

AT&T and T-Mobile said then that they would stop selling all location data from mobile phones to brokers by March 2019.

T-Mobile says it took “quick action” after it learned its location-data program was being abused and ended the program in February 2019. The company said it plans to dispute the FCC’s conclusions and fines.

The other phone companies didn’t immediately return calls for comment.

SHS student named 2020 honoree - Inaugural Champion for Children Youth Awards

SEBRING — The Inaugural Champion for Children Youth Awards celebrated the community service of its 16 finalists at the Circle Theatre, Sebring, on Thursday where Sebring High School senior Arieli Montalvo was named the 2020 Youth Champion for Children.

Special recognition went to Lake Country Elementary School fifth-grader Griffin von Merveldt for his efforts as an elementary student and Hillcrest Academy Free School seventh-grader Lyric Moore for her efforts as a middle school student.

The event was presented by the School Board of Highlands County and the Champion for Children Foundation.

Champion for Children CEO Carissa Marine said some of the finalists where nominated by multiple individuals.

The finalists chose to take action and sacrifice their own time to help others, she said.

Heartland Educational Consortium AVID Coordinator John Varady said the community is blessed with individuals who go above and beyond.

After being named the Youth Champion for Children, Arieli said, “It is a huge honor and I am blessed beyond words to actually receive this award.”

After high school she plans to attend Florida Gulf Coast University to major in forensics.

Sebring High Principal Kim Ervin said, “It couldn’t have been awarded to a better person, a better young lady. She is absolutely wonderful and contributes so much to our school and to our community. She is very deserving.”

After the conclusion of the proceedings, Varady said, “It was a fantastic event. We have amazing young people in our communities and we see their work every day. We are honored to be able to honor them.

“We hope to nurture them along because we know that this generation is going to be the next generation of adults who work to serve others and make Highlands County such a great place to live.”

According to the Youth Awards, Arieli Montalvo is well known for her role on the Peer Leadership Team where she helps fellow students navigate the college application and financial aid process.

Arieli is known for her dedication and strong work ethic through involvement in various clubs and organizations, such as National Honor Society and the IB program. She was formerly involved in sports, but chose to give them up in order to get a job to be able to help support her single mom as well as to save for college.

Arieli sets an example for her peers and encourages them as she models how to overcome obstacles in order to achieve their dreams.

Griffin von Merveldt is actively involved in his church, community and school. He began volunteering with his family, who volunteers often. He has helped his church with events like the teacher appreciation luncheon and fall festival. He enjoys doing visitations with his dad. Griffin really enjoys helping other kids, especially those with special needs.

Lyric Moore is an active volunteer through her community. A speech she made for the Tropicana Speech Contest on the topic of the impact of art on mental health evolved into one of her biggest accomplishments, the #artforhappyminds project.

Lyric has also lent numerous hours of service to others through 4-H, Heartland Core Wellness, and Highlands Lakeside Theatre, in addition to other church and community service.

Leap Year baby turns 76 ... or 19

SEBRING — Richard Gordon of Sebring will celebrate his 76th birthday today — or is it his 19th birthday — for this Leap Year baby? Gordon was born on Feb. 29, 1944 in Columbus Ohio.

The family was surprised to see him born on such a unique day.

“My mom said it fit my personality,” Gordon joked. “I love to joke; I think that having humor goes a long way to having excellent health. Don’t let anything bother you and know that the good Lord will work it out for you.”

Gordon said his birthday has never given him any problems with official documents or obtaining a license or passport.

“It’s not an issue at all,” he said. “It is a recognized birth date and always has been. We always celebrated my birthday on Feb. 28 or March 1. I have never had a problem with it.”

He said his birthday is a great conversation starter and leads to humor-filled conversations; his favorite type. Gordon said he often used humor to defuse situations when he worked for the Highlands County Building Department for over 20 years.

In a letter to the Highlands News-Sun, Gordon gave an “update on the past four years of his life.”

“I will be 19-years-young,” he wrote. “I am going to take my driver’s exam for the 16th time. Sure hope I pass. (I’m) very tired of riding my (bike) everywhere and not having a/c or a decent sound system stinks ... My parents said when I get my license they would buy me a car. We went looking last Saturday but I have been depressed since. I thought it was strange when Dad said, ‘you can choose from anything on the lot,’ and the sign read ‘Jim’s Auto Salvage.’ Needless to say I am still looking.”

Gordon said he looks forward to getting up every morning and he never gets depressed.

“Life is too long to be miserable,” he said. “Look for the good in everything, whether it’s people or situations.”

Gordon and his wife visited Sebring for two weeks in 1984 and had a house built then as they fell in love with the area. Gordon and his wife live in Sebring; they have two grown children who also live in Sebring. He said his wife has a good sense of humor and that’s how she puts up with him.

Bush promoted to executive director of LP chamber

LAKE PLACID — Jennifer Bush has accepted the promotion to become the executive director of the Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce. The decision came after Bush proved her mettle as acting executive director upon her predecessor’s, Eileen May, retirement was announced in January.

“I am honored to be chosen,” Bush said.

Bush was originally hired as May’s administrative assistant in June. Bush said the board is currently interviewing for the administrative assistant position that she vacated.

Bush knows she will have some big shoes to fill as May raised the bar high for nearly two decades.

“I have a great deal of respect for Eileen; she has set the bar high for anyone coming in after her,” Bush said. “All her hard work and dedication over the last 19 years has made tremendous impacts to Lake Placid, Highlands County and well beyond.”

Bush jumped into working at the chamber just before the Caladium Festival, possibly the busiest time of the year for the chamber staff and volunteers.

“I am currently in the learn-and-review process as I get acquainted with the members, responsibilities and organizations involved with the chamber,” Bush said. “I look forward to working in and around the community and continue the mission of the chamber to ‘build a healthy economy and improve the quality of life in the greater Lake Placid area’.”

Bush said she is looking forward to many things while in her new position, especially “the opportunities to represent the Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce, its board of directors, members and partnerships.”

Jennifer is married to Larry Bush and they have several children between them: Whitney Bush, 29; Anthony Canevari, 27; Kassandra Perry, 26, and her husband Brad Perry; and Louie Canevari, 21.

When not on duty for the chamber, Bush enjoys golfing, fishing, spending time with family and traveling.

The Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce is at 18 N. Oak Ave. The phone number is 863-465-4331.