Broker sold Planned Parenthood visitor location data to pro-life group, senator says

A pro-life political organization obtained mobile phone location data from a broker and used it to target people who had visited 600 abortion clinics across the country with advertisements, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced Tuesday.

Wyden is now calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to quickly take action against the data broker, Near Intelligence, and ensure the privacy of the patients whose data was exploited is protected, according to a letterhe sent to the agencies.

The senator began investigating the company last year, in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report revealing that the pro-life Veritas Society had used cell phone location data Near shared with online advertisers to target people visiting Wisconsin Planned Parenthood clinics with misinformation about reproductive health.

Wyden’s office followed up with Veritas Society’s advertising agency and learned from officials there that the campaign reached far beyond Wisconsin, targeting individuals visiting 600 Planned Parenthood clinics in 48 states, he said.

A Near executive also confirmed the Wall Street Journal’s earlier reporting that the company had provided location data to a defense contractor who shared it with intelligence agencies and the Defense Department, Wyden’s office said.

“If a data broker could track Americans’ cell phones to help extremists target misinformation to people at hundreds of Planned Parenthood locations across the United States, a right-wing prosecutor could use that same information to put women in jail,” Wyden said in a statement.

He added that federal watchdogs should hold the data broker “accountable for abusing Americans’ private information” and said that Congress needs to do more to protect against “extremist politicians” who could conceivably buy such data without a warrant.

In July, Wyden reintroduced legislation that would require the government to get a court order before forcing data brokers to turn over data and stop law enforcement and intelligence agencies from buying data belonging to Americans if the data is taken from a user’s accounts or devices.

In the letter sent Tuesday, Wyden urged SEC Chair Gary Gensler and FTC Chair Lina Khan to take action against Near, which filed for bankruptcy in December and is being sold.

Wyden said his staff spoke with Near’s chief privacy officer who said the company had no “technical controls” to stop customers from targeting individuals visiting sensitive locations like abortion clinics prior to the summer of 2022.

On a webpage that has since been removed, Veritas Society revealed that in Wisconsin alone in 2020 it sent 14.3 million ads to people who visited abortion clinics across the state, Wyden said. The page said the organization “served ads to those devices across the women’s social pages, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat,” he said.

“I urge the FTC to intervene in Near’s bankruptcy proceedings to ensure that all
location and device data held by Near about Americans is promptly destroyed and is not sold off, including to another data broker,” Wyden said in his letter, which cited the agency’s recent action against X-Mode Social. In that case, the FTC penalized the broker for not receiving informed consent before peddling location data.

Wyden also asked Gensler to broaden an SEC investigation and “determine whether Near’s misleading statements to investors regarding… investigation of the company constitute securities fraud.”

Get more insights with the

Recorded Future

Intelligence Cloud.

Learn more.

No previous article

No new articles

Suzanne Smalley

Suzanne Smalley

Suzanne Smalley is a reporter covering privacy, disinformation and cybersecurity policy for The Record. She was previously a cybersecurity reporter at CyberScoop and Reuters. Earlier in her career Suzanne covered the Boston Police Department for the Boston Globe and two presidential campaign cycles for Newsweek. She lives in Washington with her husband and three children.

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button

Get our latest downloads and information first. Complete the form below to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

    Input this code: captcha