The company’s data can be used to target ads to people who have visited specific locations, including reproductive health clinics, according to Recrue Media co-founder Steven Bogue, who told staff from Wyden that his company had used the company’s data for a national anti-abortion campaign. advertising blitz between 2019 and 2022.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the campaign last May, focusing on the efforts of the anti-abortion group Veritas Society in Wisconsin, as well as Arkansas, New Jersey, California and Colorado.
The group’s parent organization, Wisconsin Right to Life, did not respond to a request for comment.
The ability to use people’s location data to target ads to Planned Parenthood visitors has been available to data brokers for years, with one advertising company boasting in 2015 that it could “tag all incoming smartphones and coming out of the nearly 700 Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States. »
Wyden’s letter reveals for the first time the reach of an anti-abortion ad campaign that used location data to target the nation’s hundreds of Planned Parenthood clinics.
Justin Sherman, a researcher who studies data brokers at Duke University, called the scale of the campaign unprecedented.
“This is the largest targeting campaign we have seen so far against reproductive health clinics, based on negotiated data,” he said.
Wyden’s letter cites an interview his office conducted with Bogue, which revealed that the company used Near to reach people who would receive the anti-abortion ads.
“The extent of this invasive surveillance-based advertising campaign remains unknown, however, Mr. Bogue told my staff that the company used Near to target ads to people who had visited 600 Planned Parenthood locations in the lower 48 states “wrote Wyden, a frequent critic of data brokers who have called for privacy regulations to curb industry practices.
Bogue did not respond to requests for comment.
Data obtained without consent: Wyden is asking the SEC to investigate Near over misleading claims the company made to investors in its filings.
In a February 2023 filing, the company said it ensured that the data it obtained was collected with users’ permission, but Near’s former chief privacy officer, Jay Angelo, told staff from Wyden that the company was collecting and selling data about people without consent, according to the letter.
While the company stopped selling location data belonging to Europeans, it continued selling to Americans due to the lack of federal privacy regulations.
“Mr Angelo revealed that although he had stopped the company’s sale of data on Europeans, which is subject to strict European privacy law, the company was still selling location data on Americans,” the letter said.
Angelo did not respond to requests for comment.
Wyden also accuses Near of misleading investors by stating in his SEC filing last August that Congress has not sent any requests for information since July 2022. Wyden’s office had requested information from Near in May 2023 and also corresponded with Near’s lawyer in June 2023.
“I am concerned that this repeated misleading assertion and Near’s statements to investors regarding users consenting to the sharing and sale of their data may constitute violations of the federal securities laws,” Wyden said in the letter.
A spokesperson for Near denied Wyden’s allegations and declined to comment further.
Call on FTC to block data sales: Near filed for bankruptcy in December and is selling the company and its assets, which could include the trove of data collected at Planned Parenthood facilities.
The FTC has in the past blocked defunct companies from selling sensitive data. In 2010, the agency tried to stop a gay youth magazine from selling its subscribers’ information as part of its bankruptcy proceedings.
In recent months, the FTC has cracked down on data brokers collecting and sharing health-related information. The agency’s settlement against location data broker X-Mode highlights that the company served ads targeting people who visited medical facilities, and its lawsuit against data broker Kochava also says the data followed people who visited reproductive health care clinics.
In both cases, the FTC alleged that the companies collected location data without people’s consent.
“Given the sensitivity of the ill-gotten data sold by Near, the FTC must act to protect consumers from further harm,” Wyden notes in the letter.