FTC sues data broker for selling geolocation data for abortion clinic visitors
The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against a data broker for selling geolocation data related to abortion clinics and places of worship.
The FTC filed the suit against Kochava on Monday, alleging that the company was selling data from hundreds of millions of mobile devices that others could use to track citizens’ locations. The data collected are connected to several personal sites, including abortion clinics, places of worship, homeless shelters, and addiction recovery facilities. This is the latest effort by federal agencies to quell access from third parties to abortion-related data.
“Where consumers seek out health care, receive counseling, or celebrate their faith is private information that shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a press release. “The FTC is taking Kochava to court to protect people’s privacy and halt the sale of their sensitive geolocation information.”
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The commission argued in its complaint that Kochava’s data sale practices put consumers at risk by releasing details surrounding “sensitive” locations such as abortion clinics and shelters. These details could be used to identify residents and “expose them to stigma, discrimination, physical violence, emotional distress, and other harms,” the FTC argued.
Kochava also failed to do enough to protect its data from the public, it said. The company currently allows anyone to purchase enormous amounts of data and use them without restrictions.
This is the first suit filed by the FTC since the announcement of its new proposed rules regarding commercial surveillance and data security. The company proposed its new rules on Aug. 11 and is seeking public comment on the matter. The FTC also said in July that it intended to enforce the law regarding the illegal collection of data related to “highly sensitive commercial data,” including health-related data.
Kochava filed a suit against the FTC on Aug. 18, arguing the FTC was overreaching. The company also upheld its data collection practices. “Kochava operates consistently and proactively in compliance with all rules and laws, including those specific to privacy,” a spokesperson told Ars Technica. “Nonetheless, Kochava has been threatened by the FTC with a lawsuit and a proposed settlement, the merits upon which are not accurate. This is a manipulative attempt by the FTC to give the appearance that it is protecting consumer privacy despite being based on completely false pretenses.”
Data brokers have been an area of focus from lawmakers over their collection of geolocation data for an assortment of purposes. The overturning of Roe v. Wade in June made abortion-related data a particular concern among Democrats. At least two brokers have committed not to share abortion-related data, but others have either not spoken on the matter or declined to do so.
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The FCC has also begun pressing mobile providers over their data collection practices, asking them for details about handling geolocation data.
Kochava did not respond to requests for comment from the Washington Examiner.