FTC sues data broker Kochava for allegedly selling phone location data

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Pedestrians using their mobile phones in Hong Kong on Friday, January 29, 2021. In a city where pedestrians glued to their phones can walk into traffic, the “red man” at zebra crossings gets some reinforcements.

Lam Yik | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission filed suit Monday against Idaho-based data broker Kochava for selling location data from hundreds of millions of mobile devices that can be used to track individuals’ movements, including reproductive health clinics, domestic violence shelters and places of worship.

The agency alleges that Kochava has violated a portion of the FTC law that prohibits unfair deceptive business practices.

Using data Kochava collected on mobile devices and combined it with public mapping programs, the FTC found that it was possible to deduce the identity of the device owner by linking those devices to sensitive locations and trace them back to single-family homes. . The agency claimed that Kochava would grant users access to a sample dataset containing time-stamped location information from 61 million unique mobile devices until at least June of this year, with relatively little effort on the part of the user accessing the data.

The FTC alleges that Kochava was aware of this potential use and marketed its services on the Amazon Web Services Marketplace suggesting they use the information “to assign individual devices to households.”

The agency, in its complaint filed with federal court in Idaho, states that identification through Kochava’s location data “is likely to harm consumers through exposure to stigma, discrimination, physical violence, emotional distress and other harm.” It added that Kochava could have installed reasonable precautions to protect consumer information, for example by blacklisting information related to sensitive locations so that it would not appear in datasets, such as addiction treatment centers, shelters or medical facilities.

The FTC voted 4-1 to file the lawsuit, with Republican Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips voting against filing the complaint. The other Republican on the committee, Christine Wilson, voted with the Democratic majority.

The lawsuit builds on the agency’s focus on privacy after announcing earlier this month that it is exploring new rules to address commercial oversight and lax data security.

Kochava did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

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The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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