The Federal Trade Commission sued an app analytics company on Monday for selling cell phone location data that the agency said could be used to track people to sensitive locations like abortion clinics, domestic violence facilities and places of worship.
Kochava, an Idaho-based firm, has been ordered to delete the data and stop collecting it in the future, according to the antitrust and consumer protection regulator.
“Kochava purchased sensitive geolocation data for hundreds of millions of mobile devices and sold this data in easily re-identifiable form, likely exposing people to threats of stigma, discrimination, and physical violence,” the FTC’s Biden-appointed Chair Lina Khan wrote on Twitter. “This action is part of the FTC ’s work to use all of our tools to protect Americans’ privacy.”
In a statement to The Post, Kochava’s general manager Brian Cox denied wrongdoing and blasted the FTC for “flamboyant press releases and frivolous litigation.”
“The FTC has a fundamental misunderstanding of Kochava’s data marketplace business and other data businesses,” Cox said. “Kochava operates consistently and proactively in compliance with all rules and laws, including those specific to privacy…. It’s disappointing that the agency continues to circumvent the lawmaking process and perpetuate misinformation surrounding data privacy.”
Cox also said that the company announced a “capability to block data from sensitive locations” ahead of the FTC suit.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Kochava has allowed customers to access location data from more than 61 million mobile devices with few privacy safeguards. Bad actors using the site could potentially use the data to track would-be victims like domestic violence survivors, religious minorities and abortion patients and doctors, the FTC said.
“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 FTC wrote in its suit. “The data may also be used to identify medical professionals who perform, or assist in the performance, of abortion services.”
The agency claims Kochava was aware of how its data could be misused, writing that Kochava placed an advertisement on Amazon Web Services that suggested using its information to “map individual devices to households.”
The lawsuit underscores the shifting role of tech firms following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.
Two other companies selling mobile location data, SafeGraph and Placer.ai, agreed to stop selling abortion clinic-related location data in July following political pressure from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other Democrats.
Meanwhile, Meta caught flak from privacy advocates earlier in August after after it was revealed that the company had turned over a teenage girl’s private messages about her alleged abortion in response to a Nebraska police search warrant.