The US is suing a broker for selling data that could track visits to a church and a health clinic

Signs are seen at the Federal Trade Commission headquarters in Washington, DC, U.S., August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, Aug 29 (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday sued Idaho-based data broker Kochava Inc for selling geolocation data from hundreds of millions of mobile devices that could be used to track users.

The Federal Trade Commission said user data could be used to track people’s movements to and from sensitive locations, including “reproductive health clinics, places of worship, homeless and domestic violence shelters, and addiction recovery facilities.” Kochava responded by calling the FTC’s action “frivolous.”

The issue gained interest after a Supreme Court ruling in June overturned Roe v. Wade, which for decades guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. The tech industry worries that police or other entities could gain access to customers’ search history, geolocation and other information revealing pregnancy plans.

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Brian Cox, Kochava’s general manager, said, “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.”

Kochava said it has been in talks with the Federal Trade Commission for weeks and recently announced it is developing a feature to block geolocation data from sensitive locations.

The lawsuit seeks to stop Kochava from selling sensitive geolocation data and require the company to delete the sensitive geolocation information it has collected.

“When consumers seek health care, get counseling, or celebrate their faith, that’s personal information that shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “FTC Takes Kochava to Court to Protect People’s Privacy.”

The FTC said Kochava buys vast amounts of location information from other data brokers on hundreds of millions of mobile devices, which is packaged into personalized data. They then sell that data to customers, including retailers, who look at foot traffic.

The FTC alleges that Kochava failed to adequately protect its data from public disclosure and, at least until June, “allowed anyone with little effort to obtain a large sample of sensitive data and use it without restriction.”

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden praised the FTC’s action, saying it was working “to protect Americans from shady data brokers trying to sell private reproductive data for profit in post-Roe America.”

The Kochava data reviewed by the FTC “included accurate time-stamped location data collected from over 61 million unique mobile devices in the previous week.”

The FTC lawsuit says consumers can subscribe to Kochava’a’s data feed through the Amazon Web Services marketplace until June. The FTC’s lawsuit says Kochava claimed that it

offers “rich geographic data spanning billions of devices worldwide.”

In July, Alphabet’s Google ( GOOGL.O ) said it would delete location data showing when users visit an abortion clinic after concerns that a digital trail could inform law enforcement if someone illegally terminates a pregnancy.

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission said it was considering writing rules to better protect Americans’ privacy and crack down on companies that collect broad personal information without consumers’ full understanding.

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Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Josie Kao

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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