On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed suit against Kochava Inc., a data broker that allegedly sells geolocation information from millions of consumers’ mobile devices, exposing visits to sensitive sites such as reproductive health clinics and mental health treatment centers. According to the agency, making such private information available to essentially anyone is likely to create stigma, discrimination, and result in physical violence and emotional distress.
The FTC’s suit explains that the Idaho-headquartered company is a location data broker that collects consumer information through mobile devices, reselling the packaged data for advertising purposes and for use in foot traffic analytics to retail and other customers. Most problematically, the filing points to Kochava’s sale of non-anonymized, timestamped latitude and longitude coordinates showing the location of mobile devices.
The complaint adds that Kochava’s data feeds are available online, in publicly accessible data marketplaces where nearly anyone can purchase the geolocation information by completing a few simple steps.
The FTC argues that Kochava’s practices may allow people to be tracked to “sensitive locations,” such as places of worship, domestic abuse shelters, medical facilities, and welfare and homeless shelters, and could lead to LGBTQ+ identification. Further, the agency says that the sale constitutes an “unwarranted intrusion into the most private areas of consumers’ lives and causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers,” in support of a permanent injunction and a court order requiring the company to delete sensitive information already collected.
The case is the FTC’s latest attempt to curb commercial surveillance practices that harm consumers, the press release notes. In 2021, the agency took action against the fertility app Flo Health for sharing sensitive health data with third parties, settling the case with the agreement that the company scale back its data collection and use practices and make disclosures to consumers. More recently, the FTC announced that it is contemplating rules that rein in harmful commercial surveillance practices.
In the case against Kochava, the FTC voted 4-1 to file the suit with Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips voting no.