Federal Trade Commission Sues Data Broker Over Sale of Sensitive Geolocation Data

The issue came to light after a June Supreme Court ruling overturned Roe vs Wade: the landmark decision that guaranteed women a Constitutional Right to abortion. With reproductive rights now a States’ issue, the technology industry—as a whole—now frets that police (and, perhaps more importantly) other entities could gain access to anyone’s search history, geolocation, and other types of information that could reveal their pregnancy plans.

Specifically, the Federal Trade Commission is investigating the intentions and strategies of an Idaho-based data broker called Kochava Inc, who has been selling sensitive geolocation data for several hundred million mobile devices that could then be used to track consumers. According to the filing, the FTC reports that consumer data in question could be used to track anyone’s movements into and out of sensitive locations. These includes controversial places like “reproductive health clinics, places of worship, homeless and domestic violence shelters, and addiction recovery facilities.”

Indeed, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection director Samuel Levine explains that wherever consumers seek health care or receive any kind of counseling, or when and where and how they choose to celebrate their faith is all private information that should not be sold. He advises, “The FTC is taking Kochava to court to protect people’s privacy and halt the sale of their sensitive geolocation information.”

The lawsuit aims to stop Kochava from the selling any sensitive geolocation data, for one. It also hopes to require the company to delete any of the sensitive geolocation data it has already collected. This includes not just what may have been collected recently, but also the location information sold from other data brokers across millions of mobile devices in the past.

Not surprisingly, Kochava called the FTC’s actions frivolous, in response.

Accordingly, the company argues that it has done their part to include functions in the program to block geolocation data regarding these sensitive location. Brian Cox is the general manager of the Kochava Collective, which is their online data marketplace. He contends, “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.”