The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is targeting Idaho-based data broker Kochava for selling geolocation data that could be used to track people seeking abortion care, among other sensitive information.
On Monday, Aug. 29, the FTC published a press release citing Kochava as tracking “people at reproductive health clinics, places of worship, and other sensitive information," which the agency cites as a dangerous practice that could harm the safety of individuals.
The FTC is suing Kochava — here's why.
According to the press release, the FTC alleges Kochava sold “geolocation data from hundreds of millions of mobile devices that can be used to trace the movements of individuals to and from sensitive locations.”
This includes reproductive health clinics where people may be seeking in-state or out-of-state reproductive care like abortion. It also includes places of worship, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and addiction recovery centers, according to the agency.
Samuel Levine, the Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “Where consumers seek out health care, receive counseling, or celebrate their faith is private information that shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder.”
The FTC plays a part in a post-Roe v. Wade America.
The FTC is taking steps to protect vulnerable Americans from privacy invasion, especially surrounding reproductive health. The Health Breach Notification Rule requires companies to notify consumers when their health information has been breached. In 2021, the FTC fined period tracking app Flo for selling sensitive information.
Now, the agency is making efforts against Kochava to protect peoples’ private health decisions. The lawsuit could potentially be a method for the agency to set a precedent for the larger data market.
It isn't just patients at risk with geolocation tracking of reproductive healthcare services — it’s also providers. The FTC wrote, “Using the data sample, it is possible to track a mobile device from a reproductive health clinic to a single-family residence to other places routinely visited. The data may also be used to identify medical professionals who perform, or assist in the performance, of reproductive health services.”
Kochava responded to the FTC’s abortion-tracking lawsuit.
General manager of Kochava Brian Cox responded to the lawsuit by stating, “The FTC has a fundamental misunderstanding of Kochava’s data marketplace business and other data businesses. Kochava operates consistently and proactively in compliance with all rules and laws.”
The legitimacy of his claim has yet to be confirmed, but the lawsuit proceedings should unveil the extent of Kochava’s alleged carelessness with data. The FTC may not stop at Kochava and could take further steps to ban geotargeting at specified categories of sensitive locations.
A trigger law making abortion a felony went into effect in Texas on Thursday, Aug. 25. That makes a dozen states where most abortions are banned, a sweeping change from before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Still, about half of U.S. states retain full or limited abortion legality, and traveling for reproductive healthcare will be a necessity for some. To the FTC, protecting the data of these individuals is key to helping individuals maintain a safe and private existence.