The Federal Trade Commission has been urged by four Democratic lawmakers to investigate unfair and deceptive mobile data practices by Google and Apple.
These practices were outlined in a letter sent to FTC Chair Lina Khan from Sen. Ron Wyden, D., Ore., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D., Mass., Rep. Sara Jacobs, D., Calif., and Sen. Cory Booker, D., N.J.
Deceptive mobile data tracking
The letter alleges Google and Apple enabled “the collection and sale of hundreds of millions of mobile phone users’ personal data” and “knowingly facilitated these harmful practices by building advertising-specific tracking IDs into their mobile operating systems.”
“The advertising ID was created to give users more control and provide developers with a more private way to effectively monetize their apps. Any claims that advertising ID was created to facilitate data sale are simply false,” a Google spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.
Data privacy could also become a big concern for the FTC due to the draft bipartisan American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA), writes BakerHostetler’s Daniel Kaufman in JD Supra. “Whether federal privacy legislation stalls or reaches the finish line, it is quite certain that we will see even more FTC privacy activity going forward,” Kaufman writes.
Why Roe v. Wade reversal is prompting new privacy concerns
The lawmakers warn in their letter of the potential harms of location data tracking following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.
“[I]ndividuals seeking abortions and other reproductive health care will become particularly vulnerable to privacy harms, including through the collection and sharing of their location data,” the letter states.
“Prosecutors in states where abortion becomes illegal will soon be able to obtain warrants for location information about anyone who has visited an abortion provider. Private actors will also be incentivized by state bounty laws to hunt down women who have obtained or are seeking an abortion by accessing location information through shady data brokers,” the lawmakers write.
Advocacy groups including Fight for the Future, Amnesty International USA and the Center for Digital Democracy wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai earlier this month urging the company to stop collecting location data from mobile users, MediaPost reports.
“In a world in which abortion could be made illegal, Google’s current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care,” the groups stated.
What it means for marketers
The overturn of Roe v. Wade means marketers must be sensitive to consumers increasingly concerned about how their movements and behaviors are being tracked by companies and links to other data issues, such as the loss of third-party cookies and privacy concerns in interest-based advertising.
Vice’s Motherboard asked a range of tech companies whether or not they’d comply with law enforcement requests for data related to investigations of people seeking abortions.
Among the companies contacted were Twitter, Google, Snapchat, Amazon, TikTok, Facebook, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Venmo and Coinbase. Only Snapchat and Twitter responded, simply to say they are looking into the issue.
Consumers who use period tracking apps are already deleting them or switching to what they perceive to be safer alternatives due to concerns their data could be used against them, the Guardian reports.
“Google Maps or a random game on your phone could just as easily be weaponized against someone as a menstrual tracking app,” Evan Greer, deputy director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future, told the Guardian.
This type of public scrutiny will only grow and will no doubt encompass the brands who use those platforms and data for advertising purposes.
“Advertisers need to consider the partners they work with, where those partners collect data, and, in particular, who those partners sell location data to,” Arielle Garcia, chief privacy officer of UM Worldwide told The Drum.
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