[…] Commissioners voted 4-1 this week to bring a suit against Kochava, Inc., which calls itself the “industry leader for mobile app attribution” and sells mobile geo-location data on hundreds of millions of people. The suit accuses the company of violating the FTC Act, and the agency warns that the company’s business practices could easily be used to unmask the locations of vulnerable individuals—including visitors to reproductive health clinics, homeless and domestic violence shelters, places of worship, and addiction recovery centers.
Kochava, which is based in Idaho, sells “customized data feeds” that can be used to identify and track specific phone users, the FTC said in the suit. Kochava collects this data through a variety of means, then repackages it in large datasets to sell to marketers. The datasets include Mobile Advertising IDs, or MAIDs—the unique identifiers for mobile devices used in targeted advertising—as well as timestamped latitude and longitude coordinates for each device (i.e., the approximate location of the user). The data is ostensibly anonymized, but there are well-known ways to de-anonymize it. The suit claims that Kochava is aware of this, as it has allegedly suggested using its data “to map individual devices to households.”
Subscribing to Kochava’s feeds typically requires a hefty fee, but the FTC says that, until at least June, Kochava also granted interested users free access to a sample of the data. This “free sample” apparently included the location data of about 61 million mobile devices. Authorities say that there were “only minimal steps and no restrictions on usage” of this freely offered information.
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