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FTC sues company for selling identifiable location data, including abortion clinic visits


The Federal Trade Commission has sued a data broker called Kochava, alleging the company sold geolocation information that could be used to reveal visits to sensitive locations. The agency says the data could show movements to and from reproductive health clinics, places of worship and addiction recovery centers, as well as homeless and domestic violence shelters.

"By selling data tracking people, Kochava is enabling others to identify individuals and exposing them to threats of stigma, stalking, discrimination, job loss and even physical violence," the agency said. It wants Kochava to stop selling such data and to delete sensitive geolocation information it has collected. Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the move is an attempt to protect people's privacy.

The FTC says the data includes timestamped latitude and longitude locations that are matched with unique mobile device identification numbers. It alleged that Kochava's custom data feeds allow its customers "to identify and track specific mobile device users." The agency claims that someone who buys the data could compare the location of a phone (especially if it's in the same place overnight) against property records to identify someone and follow their movements. In fact, using a data sample, the FTC says it was able to track a device from a reproductive health clinic to a single-family residence, as well as other locations.

In June, the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, which had conferred a nationwide right to safe abortion access since the early '70s. After that decision, Google started deleting abortion clinic visits from users' location history. The FTC is going a step further by trying to halt the sale of device-level geolocation data that could be used to identify someone who visits or even works at a reproductive health clinic.

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