FTC Sues Over Data That Could Track Users' Movements

Kochava says it's already enacted privacy measures
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2022 7:05 PM CDT
FTC Sues Over Data That Could Track Abortion Patients
Volunteer escorts and others stand outside the Red River Women's Clinic in Moorhead, Minn., earlier this month.   (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)

A government lawsuit accuses a data broker of selling geolocation information pulled from millions of mobile devices that could be used to track people seeking abortions. The Federal Trade Commission suit, filed Monday, calls for Kochava to stop the sales and delete data it's already collected about users' movements, the Wall Street Journal reports. "Where consumers seek out health care, receive counseling, or celebrate their faith is private information that shouldn't be sold to the highest bidder," said Samuel Levine of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The FTC promised last month to act on privacy concerns that have increased since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, per the Verge. The sale of location data allows consumers to be identified and exposed "to threats of stigma, stalking, discrimination, job loss, and even physical violence," the agency said. The FTC also is investigating other companies involved with health data, per the Journal, in an effort to restrict such sales. Kochava already sued the FTC in anticipation of Monday's filing, arguing that its privacy enhancements were being ignored by the government and that the agency hasn't made its demands clear.

The FTC has said it's also concerned about health information that can be learned from internet searches and apps that check a user's blood sugar, for instance. Some lawyers say enforcement there could be more complicated for the agency, because medical privacy doesn't necessarily apply to information found through the internet. To make its case for data safeguards at Kochava, the FTC said it was able to use a free trial to identify a person who visited a reproductive health clinic and find a home address, per the Verge. It also traced a cellphone whose user stayed a night in a shelter for at-risk pregnant women or new mothers. (More geolocation stories.)

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