T-Mobile is once again being accused of failing to protect sensitive consumer data after an employee at one of its retail stores stole nude images from a customer’s phone when she came to trade in an old device, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.
The incident is similar to at least eight others levied against T-Mobile in the past, according to court records and news reports. The lawsuit comes as wireless companies and other tech giants face increasing pressure from lawmakers to do more to protect customer data.
The suit, filed in Washington state court, accuses T-Mobile of failing to properly train its retail workers and “turning a blind eye” when employees use their access to steal customer data under the guise they’re helping them with repairs and data transfers.
“For almost a decade, T-Mobile customers across the United States have regularly reported, evidenced by news stories and lawsuits, instances of retail store employees stealing their intimate videos, explicit photos, and bank accounts,” the suit charges. “Nevertheless, T-Mobile has failed to implement any common-sense security hardware or software to protect consumers from their data and privacy being exploited during ordinary transactions at the T-Mobile store.”
In a statement, a T-Mobile spokesperson said: “This was an employee of a third-party authorized retailer, and he was terminated. While we are unable to comment on the specifics of this pending case, we want to underscore that we take customer protection and issues like this very seriously. We have policies and procedures in place to protect customer information and expect them to be followed.”
The victim, who is only referred to as “Jane Doe” in the complaint, states she went to a T-Mobile store at the Columbia Center Mall, about 200 miles southeast of Seattle, last October to upgrade her iPhone XS Max to an iPhone 14 Pro Max. While there, she handed the old device off to an employee so he could transfer her data to the new device.
While the worker had the phone, he found nude images of the victim and a video of her having sex with her partner on the camera roll of the XS Max and sent it to himself on Snapchat, the lawsuit states.
Once the transaction was finished, Jane assumed her data was wiped from the old phone until later that evening, when she checked her Snapchat and saw that the images had been sent to an unknown account, which police later traced back to the T-Mobile employee.
“Anxious and concerned, Jane hastily returned to the T-Mobile store with her mother to speak to the store manager,” the lawsuit states. “During this time, while Jane was seeking assistance at the T-Mobile store, the unauthorized person continued to log into her social media accounts on the iPhone XS Max.”
At first, staff claimed there had been no trade-ins that day, but with help from mall security and local police, Jane’s old phone was found in the back room.
“Rather than helping Jane out in the face of the sexual privacy crime, the T-Mobile manager said if Jane wanted access back to the old device that had been weaponized against her, Jane would need to pay them the amount that they had discounted her for the trade-in,” the lawsuit states. “Jane’s mother on Jane’s behalf surrendered and paid the amount.”
The employee was later charged with first degree computer trespass, a felony, and disclosing intimate images, which is a crime in most states, according to the lawsuit. He pleaded guilty last month, the suit says.
The lawsuit was filed by Carrie Goldberg and Laura Hecht-Felella at the New York-based C.A. Goldberg firm and Emma Aubrey from the Washington-based Redmond Law Firm.
Goldberg, who frequently takes on tech giants for failing to protect consumers, called her latest suit a “classic case of a gargantuan company” chalking off customer injury as a cost of doing business.
“T-Mobile has long known that its negligent hiring and absent consumer safety policies will result in at least some of its customers becoming sexually exploited,” Goldberg told CNBC.
“T-Mobile has big incentive programs to induce customers to upgrade their devices and turn in their old ones. But the ugly truth is that T-Mobile knows that employees sometimes steal customers’ most intimate images and videos from the old devices they relinquish,” Goldberg added. “This case shows that nobody should feel their privacy is safe at T-Mobile.”
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