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FTC sues mobile data broker over sale of consumer data that tracks abortion location

August 29, 2022, 6:00 PM UTC
Privacy and reproductive rights advocates have warned that data collected from mobile health apps or online search information could be used to build a case against people seeking abortions or health-care professionals and others who assist them.
Natalie Behring—Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued Kochava Inc., a data broker it alleges sells consumers’ mobile geolocation data that could be used to track visits to abortion providers, addiction recovery centers or other sensitive locations.

The agency voted 4-1 to file the complaint in Idaho federal court, with Republican Commissioner Noah Phillips dissenting. 

The suit comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning the right to seek an abortion. In the weeks since, 12 states have criminalized abortion and six have put time limits on the procedure. Last week, new bans went into effect in Idaho and Tennessee, and in Texas abortion is now considered a felony punishable by life in prison.

Privacy and reproductive rights advocates have warned that data collected from mobile health apps or online search information could be used to build a case against people seeking abortions or health-care professionals and others who assist them.

Democratic Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya said in a series of tweets Monday that the FTC’s case seeks “to protect some of the most sensitive information imaginable—precise data on our movements.”

The consumer protection agency also sought public comments this month about what it’s dubbed “commercial surveillance” by businesses that sell or share information collected about consumers across websites and mobile apps. 

The FTC alleges that Kochava’s data put consumers at risk, letting buyers purchase time-stamped location data with few restrictions on its usage. 

Kochava didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kochava describes itself as an Idaho-based mobile analytics company. The company preemptively sued the FTC this month, alleging the agency misunderstands its business and that consumers can opt-out of geolocation data collection. 

The case is Federal Trade Commission v Kochava, 22-cv-00377, US District Court for the District of Idaho.

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