FTC accuses data broker of selling sensitive location data

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators have sued a data broker they accuse of selling sensitive geolocation data from millions of mobile devices, information that can be used to identify people and track their movements to and from from sensitive locations, including reproductive health clinics, homeless shelters and places of worship.

The Federal Trade Commission sued Idaho-based Kochava Inc. on Monday amid heated debate over the privacy of people who may seek abortions following the Supreme Court’s June ruling ending constitutional protections for abortion. While this isn’t the first case the FTC has brought against a data broker, experts say it’s the first involving healthcare data and referencing reproductive health clinics.

“It’s potentially a big deal,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group, said of the FTC action. “They placed a stake in the ground.”

The data brokerage industry, which collects, sells or trades location data from mobile phones, has come under increased scrutiny from Congress and regulators following the decision of the Supreme Court. Lawmakers have asked senior executives of big tech companies, as well as smaller data brokers, about their handling of consumer location data from mobile phones, and what steps they have taken to protect the right to privacy of persons seeking information on abortion.

The FTC announced this month that it is considering drafting rules to crack down on what it sees as harmful commercial surveillance and lax data security by tech companies and others.

In its lawsuit against Kochava filed in federal court in Idaho, the FTC alleges that by selling tracking data, the company enables other parties to identify individuals and exposes them to threats of stigma, harassment, discrimination, job loss and even physical violence. The agency is seeking to stop Kochava’s sale of “sensitive geolocation data” and to compel the company to delete the geolocation data it has collected.

“When consumers seek health care, receive advice or celebrate their faith, this is private information that should not be sold to the highest bidder,” said Samuel Levine, director of the Consumer Protection Office of the FTC. “The FTC is suing Kochava to protect people’s privacy and stop the sale of their sensitive geolocation information.”

The company filed a lawsuit against the FTC earlier this month, after the agency sent Kochava a proposed lawsuit saying it could sue the company.

On Monday, the company said the FTC lawsuit was a sign that the agency did not understand the operations of the company or other data companies.

“Kochava operates consistently and proactively in compliance with all rules and laws, including those specific to privacy,” said Brian Cox, Managing Director of Kochava Collective. The company describes itself as the largest independent marketplace in mobile data to the world, allowing marketers to “buy mobile audiences”.

Before legal proceedings with the FTC began, Kochava unveiled a new capability to block geographic data from sensitive locations, Cox said. This effectively removed that data from the data market and is currently being implemented, he said.

“We are constantly monitoring and proactively adjusting our technology to block geographic data from other sensitive locations,” he said.

Concerns over consumer online privacy escalated last week when allegations surfaced from Twitter’s former security chief that the influential social network misled regulators – including the FTC – on its cyber defense and its efforts to control fake accounts. One of Peiter Zatko’s most serious accusations is that Twitter violated the terms of a 2011 FTC settlement by falsely claiming that it had stricter measures in place to protect the security and privacy of its users. .

In a landmark privacy lawsuit, Sephora Inc., one of the world’s largest cosmetics retailers, settled a California lawsuit last week alleging the company sold customer information without notice, in violation of the state consumer privacy law.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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