$6.3b US firm Telesign breached GDPR, reputation-scoring half of the population of the planet with mobiles

A US-based fraud prevention company is in hot water over allegations it not only collected data from millions of EU citizens and processed it using automated tools without their knowledge, but that it did so in the United States, all in violation of the EU’s data protection rules.

The complaint was filed by Austrian privacy advocacy group noyb, helmed by lawyer Max Schrems, and it doesn’t pull any punches in its claims that TeleSign, through its former Belgian parent company BICS, secretly collected data on cellphone users around the world.

That data, noyb alleges, was fed into an automated system that generates “reputation scores” that TeleSign sells to its customers, which includes TikTok, Salesforce, Microsoft and AWS, among others, for verifying the identity of a person behind a phone number and preventing fraud.

BICS, which acquired TeleSign in 2017, describes itself as “a global provider of international wholesale connectivity and interoperability services,” in essence operating as an interchange for various national cellular networks. Per noyb, BICS operates in more than 200 countries around the world and “gets detailed information (e.g. the regularity of completed calls, call duration, long-term inactivity, range activity, or successful incoming traffic) [on] about half of the worldwide mobile phone users.”

That data is regularly shared with TeleSign, noyb alleges, without any notification to the customers whose data is being collected and used.


In its complaint, an auto-translated English version of which was reviewed by The Register, noyb alleges that TeleSign is in violation of the GDPR’s provisions that ban use of automated profiling tools, as well as rules that require affirmative consent be given to process EU citizen’s data.


When BICS acquired TeleSign in 2017, it began to fall under the partial control of BICS’ parent company, Belgian telecom giant Proximus. Proximus held a partial stake in BICS, which Proximus spun off from its own operations in 1997.

In 2021, Proximus bought out BICS’ other shareholders, making it the sole owner of both the telecom interchange and TeleSign.

With that in mind, noyb is also leveling charges against Proximus and BICS. In its complaint, noyb said Proximus was asked by EU citizens from various countries to provide records of the data TeleSign processed, as is their right under Article 15 of the GDPR.

The complainants weren’t given the information they requested, says noyb, and claims what was handed over was simply a template copy of the EU’s standard contractual clause (SCC), which has been used by businesses transmitting data between the EU and US while the pair try to work out data transfer rules that Schrems won’t get struck down in court.


Noyb is seeking cessation of all data transfers from BICS to TeleSign, processing of said data, and is requesting deletion of all unlawfully transmitted data. It’s also asking for Belgian data protection authorities to fine Proximus, which noyb said could reach as high as €236 million ($257 million) – a mere 4 percent of Proximus’s global turnover.


Source: US firm ‘breached GDPR’ by reputation-scoring EU citizens • The Register

This firm is absolutely massive, yet it’s a smaller part of BICS and chances are that you’ve never ever heard of either of them!

Robin Edgar

Organisational Structures | Technology and Science | Military, IT and Lifestyle consultancy | Social, Broadcast & Cross Media | Flying aircraft

 robin@edgarbv.com  https://www.edgarbv.com