FTC sues data broker for selling data that it says could track people at abortion clinics

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday announced a lawsuit against a major data broker based out of Idaho, accusing the company of selling sensitive location data which could be used to track people to places such as addiction clinics.

The company, Kochava Inc., is accused of violating the FTC Act by selling “customized data feeds” that can be used to track specific mobile devices.

FTC Chair Lina Khan explained the lawsuits reasoning in a series of Tweets on Monday, saying: “Today @FTC sued data broker Kochava for selling geolocation data that can be used to track people at addiction recovery facilities, reproductive health clinics, places of worship, shelters, and other sensitive locations.”

“As alleged in @FTC’s complaint, Kochava purchased sensitive geolocation data for hundreds of millions of mobile devices & sold this data in easily re-identifiable form, likely exposing people to threats of stigma, discrimination, and physical violence,” Khan said. “This action is part of the @FTC’s work to use all of our tools to protect Americans’ privacy. Earlier this month, we announced that we are exploring rules to crack down on unlawful commercial surveillance practices.”

She added, “As part of this effort, we are hosting a public forum on September 8 to hear from the public on commercial surveillance and lax data security practices. Anyone can sign up to speak.”

Kochava condemned the lawsuit and accused the FTC of spreading “misinformation” about data privacy. “This lawsuit shows the unfortunate reality that the FTC has a fundamental misunderstanding of Kochava’s data marketplace business and other data businesses. Kochava operates consistently and proactively in compliance with all rules and laws, including those specific to privacy,” said Brian Cox, the general manager of the company’s online data marketplace.

“Real progress to improve data privacy for consumers will not be reached through flamboyant press releases and frivolous litigation,” Cox said. He added that the company would be open to discussing a settlement if the FTC agreed to “effective solutions.” Cox said that the company is currently working on a new tool to block location data from sensitive locations.

While Cox said that all location data is obtained by consenting consumers, the FTC says that people are often unaware that their data is being sold and shared by Kochava.



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