US sues data broker for selling sensitive location data from millions of users

The lawsuit from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleges that the data Kochava sells could allow tracking customers’ visits to reproductive health clinics, places of worship, and addiction recovery centers.

The FTC sued data broker Kochava for selling geolocation data from hundreds of millions of mobile devices. The Commission claims that Kochava failed to obscure the data it sells, allowing it to trace users’ sensitive visits.

Authorities worry that this type of data can lead to individuals to stalking, discrimination, job loss, physical violence, and social stigma.

“Where consumers seek out health care, receive counseling, or celebrate their faith is private information that shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder. The FTC is taking Kochava to court to protect people’s privacy and halt the sale of their sensitive geolocation information,” Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said.

The FTC alleges that Kochava failed to anonymize the data it is selling properly. For example, data buyers can see the exact location of the mobile device at night, which likely is the user’s home address. Combined with additional information, such as property records, it becomes possible to identify the name of the device user.

The Commission says that until June 2022, Kochava allowed anyone to get their hands on large samples of sensitive location data without any restrictions.

“The data sample the FTC examined included precise, timestamped location data collected from more than 61 million unique mobile devices in the previous week,” the FTC said.

Moreover, authorities could determine which mobile users went to reproductive clinics and mobile devices that routinely visited single-family residences. The FTC says that anyone with access to the data Kochava sold could identify medical professionals who assist with reproductive health services.

The same sample allowed the FTC to get similar results for device owners who visited places of worship, homeless and domestic violence shelters, and addiction recovery centers.

Kochava advertises as a premium data marketplace, providing data on over a billion active monthly devices and 300 million households worldwide. Data brokers collect and sell data from millions of US users, often for sellers that want to provide targeted advertising.

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