FTC sues data broker that tracks locations of 125M phones per month

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday sued a data broker for allegedly promoting location data culled from tons of of tens of millions of phones that can be utilized to trace the actions of folks visiting abortion clinics, home abuse shelters, locations of worship, and different delicate locations.

In a criticism, the company mentioned that Idaho-based Kochava has promoted its market as offering “rich geo data spanning billions of devices globally.” The data broker has additionally mentioned it “delivers raw latitude/longitude data with volumes around 94B+ geo transactions per month, 125 million monthly active users, and 35 million daily active users, on average observing more than 90 daily transactions per device.”

The FTC mentioned Kochava amassed the data by monitoring the Mobile Advertising ID, or MAID, from phones and promoting the data by means of Amazon Web Services or different retailers with out first anonymizing the data. Anyone who purchases the data can then use it to trace the comings and goings of many cellphone house owners. Many of the allegations are primarily based on the company’s evaluation of a data pattern the corporate made out there without spending a dime to advertise gross sales of its data, which was out there on-line with no restrictions on utilization.

“In fact, in just the data Kochava made available in the Kochava Data Sample, it is possible to identify a mobile device that visited a women’s reproductive health clinic and trace that mobile device to a single-family residence,” the criticism alleged. “The data set also reveals that the same mobile device was at a particular location at least three evenings in the same week, suggesting the mobile device user’s routine. The data may also be used to identify medical professionals who perform, or assist in the performance, of abortion services.”


The FTC went on to allege: “In addition, because Kochava’s data allows its customers to track consumers over time, the data could be used to identify consumers’ past conditions, such as homelessness. In fact, the Kochava Data Sample identifies a mobile device that appears to have spent the night at a temporary shelter whose mission is to provide residence for at-risk, pregnant young women or new mothers.”

Kochava officers launched a press release that learn:

This lawsuit reveals the unlucky actuality that the FTC has a basic misunderstanding of Kochava’s data market enterprise and different data companies. Kochava operates persistently and proactively in compliance with all guidelines and legal guidelines, together with these particular to privateness.

Prior to the authorized proceedings, Kochava took the proactive step of saying a brand new functionality to dam geo data from delicate locations by way of Privacy Block, successfully eradicating that data from the data market, and is presently within the implementation course of of including that performance. Absent specificity from the FTC, we’re always monitoring and proactively adjusting our know-how to dam geo data from different delicate locations. Kochava sources 100% of the geo data in our data market from third social gathering data brokers all of whom characterize that the data comes from consenting shoppers.

For the previous a number of weeks, Kochava has labored to teach the FTC on the position of data, the method by which it’s collected and the best way it’s utilized in digital promoting. We hoped to have productive conversations that led to efficient options with the FTC about these sophisticated and essential points and are open to them sooner or later. Unfortunately the one end result the FTC desired was a settlement that had no clear phrases or resolutions and redefined the issue right into a transferring goal. Real progress to enhance data privateness for shoppers is not going to be reached by means of flamboyant press releases and frivolous litigation. It’s disappointing that the company continues to avoid the lawmaking course of and perpetuate misinformation surrounding data privateness.


Two weeks in the past, the corporate sued the FTC in anticipation of Monday’s criticism, alleging its practices adjust to all guidelines and legal guidelines and that the company’s actions had been an overreach.

Monday’s criticism mentioned it was potential to entry the Kochava data pattern with minimal effort. “A purchaser could use an ordinary personal email address and describe the intended use simply as ‘business,'” FTC attorneys wrote. “The request would then be sent to Kochava for approval. Kochava has approved such requests in as little as 24 hours.”

The data pattern consisted of a subset of the paid data feed that lined a rolling seven-day interval. A single day’s price of data contained greater than 327,480,000 rows and 11 columns of data that pulled data from greater than 61.8 million cell gadgets.

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

Allegations like these within the criticism elevate a bigger query about reining in location monitoring by cell gadgets. People ought to fastidiously overview iOS and Android privateness settings to restrict the apps’ entry to location data. Both OSes additionally enable customers to show off advert personalization, a measure that can restrict the use of some identifiers corresponding to MAIDs. iOS additional permits customers to bar one app from monitoring their exercise throughout different apps.

None of these measures ensures that location data will not get swept up and offered by corporations corresponding to Kochava, however it’s an excellent observe to observe them anyway.


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