Monday, October 3, 2022
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FTC Sues Data Broker Kochava for Selling Location Information That Could Unmask Abortion Seekers

Monday’s lawsuit targets Kochava, a marketing data company that lists major brands including Disney, McDonald’s and Hilton among its clients.

The FTC complaint alleges that Kochava failed to protect consumers when it publicly posted samples of real consumer data on Amazon’s cloud services marketplace and offered even more data to those who paid.

Kochava did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit comes amid growing scrutiny of data brokers, tech platforms and other companies that handle consumer location data generated by smartphones and other devices, as privacy advocates have warned that new state laws restricting abortion could lead to location histories of abortion seekers being used against them as evidence of misconduct.

According to the FTC, Kochava’s data had not been anonymized, so by combining his location records with data from other sources, it would be possible to deduce a person’s real identity based on the information Kochava provided. In conducting the investigation that led to the lawsuit, the FTC said it analyzed a sample set from Kochava that covered more than 60 million unique mobile devices over the course of a single week.

Kochava’s data includes precise time-stamped latitude and longitude information for individual consumers, according to the lawsuit, highlighting data tied to a specific person to illustrate how revealing the information can be.

“The data may be used to identify consumers who have visited an abortion clinic and, as a result, may have had or contemplated having an abortion,” the complaint says. “Indeed, with just the data that Kochava made available in the Kochava data sample, it is possible to identify a mobile device that visited a women’s reproductive health clinic and trace that mobile device back to the residence of a single family. The dataset also reveals that the same mobile device was in a particular location at least three nights in the same week, suggesting the routine of the mobile device user.The data can also be used to identify medical professionals performing or assist in providing abortion services.

Under its statutes, the FTC is authorized to prosecute unfair or deceptive business practices. In this case, the agency alleges that Kochava’s data practices are unfair because they could cause harm to consumers that they cannot avoid.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down federal abortion rights this year, the FTC has signaled an increased focus on protecting health-related data.

Following a White House executive orders in july that urged the FTC to protect the privacy of those seeking an abortion, the agency reiterated that would hold data brokers and others accountable for data misuse or mischaracterizations of data policies. Agency regulators are also considering possible new data privacy rules that could have broad ramifications for how companies can collect, use and share personal information, including location information.


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