A federal judge in Idaho on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit the Federal Trade Commission filed last year against major location data broker Kochava. In a ruling, the judges wrote that regulators did not provide enough evidence to support their claim that the company unfairly sold the precise location information of millions of people’s cellphones.
But the court will give the FTC an opportunity to strengthen its case if it wants to proceed with the case.
The ruling deals at least a temporary blow to the commission’s recent aggressive efforts to crack down on the sale and use of potentially sensitive information, such as consumers’ drug prescriptions, religious beliefs or sexual orientation data.
Sandpoint, Idaho-based Kochava is a mobile analytics company that uses location data to help marketers target and measure ad campaigns. According to the judge’s ruling in the case, the company typically collects more than 90 location data points per day from about 35 million active mobile device users — location coordinates that can “reveal the location of each mobile device approximately every 15 minutes.”
In its Complaint against KochavaIn a filing last August, the FTC argued that geolocation data on tens of millions of smartphones sold by the company could be used to track people’s visits to private places such as churches, mosques, synagogues, abortion clinics , domestic violence shelters, medical centers and homeless shelters.
Regulators say location data can be used not only to track the date and time a patient goes to an abortion clinic, but also the location of health care professionals who provide medical services such as abortions.
For example, in an investigation of location data brokers a few years ago, New York Times reporters were able to use mobile device location datasets to track smartphone users as they traveled from their homes outside Newark to a Planned Parenthood clinic.
“The sale of such data constitutes an unwarranted intrusion into the most intimate areas of consumers’ lives and causes or may cause substantial harm to consumers,” the FTC’s complaint states.
But a judge in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho rejected the agency’s contention that Kochava’s sale of location data violated consumer privacy so badly that it constituted substantial harm.
And, while the court agreed with the FTC that Kochava’s sale of location data could have enabled third parties to track and harm smartphone users who had visited sensitive locations, the judge said the regulator had not presented enough evidence that consumers were actually suffering — or possibly suffer. Suffer—substantial harm.
In a statement, Douglas Faller“We are pleased that the court agreed with our key arguments, and we look forward to continuing to advance our case on behalf of American consumers,” an FTC spokesman said.
Charles Manning, Kochava’s founder and chief executive welcomed the judge’s ruling, saying the company complied with “all rules and laws,” including privacy laws.
“We hope that challenging the FTC will bring the necessary regulatory clarity that will ultimately benefit consumers and advertisers,” he said in a statement.
The dismissal of the case highlights the daunting task regulators face in trying to limit or ban certain types of data collection and use.
In an executive action earlier this week, the FTC proposed prohibiting Meta from monetizing the personal data of users under the age of 18 on Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and other corporate platforms. Such a sweeping ban could prevent Meta from using data on young people for purposes such as targeting advertising or “enriching its own data models and algorithms,” the agency said in a statement. an executive order.
Meta said it would “vigorously oppose” the FTC’s action and was expected to win.