For many of us, our mobile phone is a constant companion, with us wherever we go. It’s also constantly collecting information about us, what we do, and where we do it. And unbeknownst to many of us, once that information is collected, much of it gets sold onwards in a murky marketplace of data brokers and advertisers. Because this market for our data is not transparent, it’s almost impossible to figure out who has information about us and what they’re doing with it.
Our phones can also reveal far more about us than we might realize: important details about our lives and where we’ve been. For example, our phones might be periodically sending their exact location to tech companies. This data can pinpoint our comings and goings with startling precision. Think what this might reveal: what therapist you’re seeing, what medical treatment you’re seeking, your visits to places of worship, and even your reproductive choices. This type of tracking can cause enormous harm to consumers, including stigma, emotional distress, discrimination, or even physical violence.
That’s why the FTC has sued Kochava Inc., a location data broker that sells massive amounts of precise location data collected from tens of millions of mobile users. According to the FTC, Kochava typically charges a monthly subscription fee to access its location data — but it’s also offered free samples, requiring only minimal steps to download. The FTC says that Kochava does not remove or obscure from its data feeds the location data pointing to sensitive locations, including locations associated with medical care, places of worship, reproductive health, homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters, and addiction recovery. The result is that any customer of Kochava could track consumers’ visits to these sensitive places. In fact, in its complaint, the FTC explains it was able to identify from Kochava’s data a mobile device that visited a women’s reproductive health clinic and then trace the same device to a single-family residence, likely making it possible to identify the owner of the device.
The FTC says that the sale of this sensitive data, which can pose such an unwarranted intrusion into the most private areas of consumers’ lives, is an unfair business practice and should be stopped. The case is ongoing.
The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.
- We won’t post off-topic comments, repeated identical comments, or comments that include sales pitches or promotions.
- We won’t post comments that include vulgar messages, personal attacks by name, or offensive terms that target specific people or groups.
- We won’t post threats, defamatory statements, or suggestions or encouragement of illegal activity.
- We won’t post comments that include personal information, like Social Security numbers, account numbers, home addresses, and email addresses. To file a detailed report about a scam, go to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
We don't edit comments to remove objectionable content, so please ensure that your comment contains none of the above. The comments posted on this blog become part of the public domain. To protect your privacy and the privacy of other people, please do not include personal information. Opinions in comments that appear in this blog belong to the individuals who expressed them. They do not belong to or represent views of the Federal Trade Commission.
I think this is wonderful. We need more consumer protection like this. Thank you, FTC.
Technology is a double-edged sword, a two-sided coin: good and bad. Privacy as it used to be before cell phones no longer exists. If time travel were possible, I'd use it to go back to a time before the personal computer. I'd rather live back in the 50's - 60's - 70's then in the present time. Back then, we really did live when our country was great. Not so much anymore.
Is this a group litigation?
Can the compromised consumer (me) reverse this and how attack the hacker, not that I want to or will?
You need to investigate the background checking companies such as mylife, Google, and all the others. Mylife had my driver's license on my info. Said it probably came from Google. Not Googles business to promote info used to scam and open accounts.
In reply to You need to investigate the… by 4lllls
In reply to You need to investigate the… by 4lllls
This scam has happend to me recently on fb market place. I recieved a comment to purchase an item I had for sale ..bit I have to believe it was a scam. I have no record of the conversation. It just disappeared?? Google??
Thank you FTC, for monitoring the data mining and illegal profiteering. American consumers are under constant attack, some visible and some clandestine. I applaud your vigilance and your pursuit of justice.
Glad to hear this.
Glad to hear this! It REALLY is about time that this practice will hopefully be put to an end !
Go for it! I get tired of all the emails from unfamiliar organizations. Hopefully this will help on that — as well as the very important issue of tracking in general.
WOW! Someone in our government is actually doing there job!!! Thank You.
The passing on of my information by companies became a nightmare for me. I bought a phone that blocks callers. So far, I have blocked about 300 telephone numbers. It will not end. I still get about three calls a day from unsolicited companies.
In reply to The passing on of my… by Angel B Pacheco
I have blocked up to 16 different numbers from the same scammer from Jamaica. They just called you on a different number. I just don’t answer the calls or hit recline. I have received as many as 25 marketing calls and scamming calls in one day. When I started reporting them to the FTC then it’s moved down to four or five of them a week.
We most certainly live in a different world. Big brother is out in the street, in our homes, perhaps everywhere. I am in my 60s, and the speed of change and the seemingly quickening passing of days is, at times, overwhelming. I suspect that most of the younger generation (those in their 20s and 30s) don't realize this... yet.
I want to thank you for the great work! I do not carry my phone when I am going to certain appointments that are my personal business. My bank and all healthcare providers. If an emergency arises I am not concerned someone else will have a phone. The trackers can know when I go out to eat or where I shop. They bombard with ads anyway.
It's been a long time until someone finally got to these companies, I've been very concerned about this issue, keep me updated on this lawsuit, thank you, Linda talvacchio
Thank you for this information. I will learn more about Location Data and follow your story.
Please stop these disgusting people from violating our privacy Rights. It’s intrusive and puts everyone at risk of serious harm.
Thank you for catching them.
That’s a start!!
Excellent and informative article, but nothing in here about what the consumer can do to keep sensitive information private.
Thank you FTC!!! Companies like this need to be stopped and prosecuted as criminals. Enough is enough. I thank you for all the work you do for consumers. I know your hands are tied in many cases but you do what you can, when you can and I for one am thankful.
I find it ironic that many of the people who are so paranoid about our government tracking our personal lives care so little about situations like this as well as the data that they freely share on social media and through the fitness trackers that are so widely used.
THANK YOU FTC.
If I turn my smartphone off can my privacy still be invaded or tracked?
This is not the only company doing this. If you're on Social Media like Facebook and you don't check your privacy information for only youself; Your name, age, address and phone numberwill appear on google. This is not a good thing. I hope the FTC can do something ti stop this invasion of privacy!
Go get ‘em! I use my cell phone as a private line. I do not welcome unsolicited calls from unknown businesses and individuals nor do I do business with random callers. I support any action to curb these invasive practices.