FTC 'Grossly Exaggerates' Revelations From Location Data, Kochava Argues

Mobile data broker Kochava is pressing a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission, which alleges the company engages in an unfair business practice by selling smartphone users' geolocation data.

In papers filed Friday with U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, Kochava says its data is anonymized, and argues that the FTC “grossly exaggerates” what location data can divulge about consumers.

“The FTC raises a menagerie of overtly politicized but factually inept scenarios resulting in 'harms' that rely on a series of bankrupt assumptions every step of the way,” Kochava writes in a motion urging Winmill to dismiss the FTC's complaint.

The company's papers come in a lawsuit brought in August by the FTC, which alleged that Kochava sold location data that could reveal people's visits to sensitive locations -- including visits to abortion clinics, homeless shelters, medical offices and other locales.

Kochava counters in its newest papers that the FTC has not established that the company's alleged practices cause injury to consumers, arguing that location data in itself doesn't reveal the reasons for a visit to a locale.

“The FTC grossly exaggerates the conclusion of what the location data may or may not reveal about consumers,” the company writes, adding that a consumer who goes to a medical establishment could be “visiting another business in the same building, visiting a doctor’s office as a sales representative or vendor, a delivery person, or multitude of reasons.”

“The FTC provides no facts to support its illogical leap that a geolocation at a treatment center automatically equals an immediate harmful disclosure of a medical condition," Kochava adds.

Kochava also says the data it provides is not “personally identifiable.”

The FTC alleged in its complaint that Kochava sells “timestamped latitude and longitude coordinates showing the location of mobile devices,” as well as mobile advertising IDs -- unique, 32-character identifiers that persist, unless consumers proactively reset them.

The agency contends that although mobile advertising identifiers are pseudonymous, they can reveal people's actual identities. For instance, the FTC said in its complaint, the location of a smartphone at night could correspond to the user's street address.

But Kochava argues to Winmill that a mobile advertising identifier, even when combined with geolocation coordinates, “does not readily permit an ordinary person to identify a particular individual.”

Kochava's new papers support of an application it initially filed in November, when it first asked Winmill to dismiss the complaint. 

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