US Government Sues Data Broker, Saying It Sold Abortion Clinic Visitors’ Data

Monday’s lawsuit was filed by the Federal Trade Commission against an Idaho-based broker of location data. The data could be used to identify providers and their homes, potentially putting them in serious danger.

According to the FTC data broker Kochava Inc. has been selling data that reveals people’s visits to locations like abortion clinics, domestic abuse shelters and places that could divulge a person’s LGBTQ identity — sensitive information that could expose people to violence, stalking, harassment, and more.

Further, the FTC says that the data is not anonymized; the company has allegedly been selling data tracking people’s movements and places they regularly visit with time stamps, which could be used to figure out a user’s home address and identity. Kochava even appears to advertise as such on its marketplace, where it suggests “household mapping” as a use for its data, the FTC notes in its lawsuit. The company also offers a free trialIt is available to anyone who needs it.

The FTC said in a statement that it is seeking to get the company to delete the “sensitive” geolocation information that it has posted for sale in order to “protect people’s privacy.” The agency argues that the company could do so without taking major hits to its profits.

“Where consumers seek out health care, receive counseling, or celebrate their faith is private information that shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder,” FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director Samuel Levine said.

The FTC states that the company has little control over who can access its location data. Users are often unaware that their data may be sold. As a result, users can’t take “reasonable steps” to avoid the sale of their sensitive information.

Since the overturning Roe v. WadePoliticians and abortion advocates are concerned that as abortion criminalization increases, abortion providers and seekers could inadvertently be incriminated by the information they collect from their phones and phone apps.

Many data brokers are available. Already under scrutinyfor selling data that could be used in harassing and identifying abortion seekers. Even before the overturning of Roe, tracking dataHad been usedTo prosecute anyone seeking an abortion.

It’s not solely data brokers that are responsible, however; FacebookFor instance, the company has been collecting data willfully about people who visit websites for so-called crisis pregnancy centres, which are largely run anti-abortionists who want to discourage pregnant people from seeking abortions. The company also last month turned overPrivate messages to police were sent to prosecute a Nebraska woman whose teenage daughter had an abortion. This is illegal beyond 20 weeks in Nebraska.

After President Joe Biden signed an executive orderThe FTC issued a directive to federal agencies in July to establish guidelines to protect abortionists. would crack downData brokers selling sensitive data about abortions, including allegedly Kochava, to data brokers. The agency also announced this week that it is exploringNew guidelines are being developed to combat data sales and commercial surveillance.