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WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Free Press filed a comment in support of the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed enforcement action against X-Mode Social, Inc. (and its successor Outlogic, LLC). This move follows the agency’s allegations that X-Mode unfairly and deceptively collected and sold sensitive data about consumers, including collecting and selling location data without first receiving specific consent or allowing people to opt out of such use.

In its filing, Free Press noted the uniquely sensitive and potentially harmful nature of location data, especially when combined with targeted marketing campaigns. Among the many allegations against X-Mode is that it agreed to provide location data to a clinical-research company. This included information about whether and for how long a given individual visited medical specialists and treatment facilities.

“The collection, use, and sale of location data have significant implications for people’s civil and constitutional rights, from racial justice and reproductive justice to First Amendment rights of association and protest,” Free Press’ comment reads. Numerous press accounts have detailed how data brokers and other marketing firms exploit such sensitive location data: Last year, The Wall Street Journal described how an anti-abortion organization used location data to target ads containing reproductive-health disinformation to people who visited Planned Parenthood locations.

Last November, Free Press published Insatiable: The Tech Industry’s Quest for All Our Data, a research report documenting how several technology companies bury data-collection disclosures in their terms of service or lengthy privacy policies, while failing to comprehensively identify potential third-party recipients of user data. These nefarious practices routinely inhibit a user’s ability to consent to — or opt out of — the collection and use of their data.

Free Press Policy Counsel Jenna Ruddock, who authored the FTC filing and Insatiable report, said:

“We urgently need regulatory intervention to safeguard our digital privacy and curb corporate hunger for all our data. This is critically important now, as lawmakers scramble to rein in privacy abuses related to artificial intelligence. But this must account for such privacy abuses and civil-rights violations no matter what digital tools are used to perpetrate them.

“The X-Mode case represents only one slice of a data economy that is inadequately regulated. Abuses of people’s privacy will continue unless lawmakers and regulators adopt comprehensive federal rules to prevent the harms that flow from the unmitigated harvesting of our personal data, including by the data-broker industry.

“The proposed FTC order requires X-Mode to take several actions, including deleting all historical location data and data products unless it can newly obtain affirmative-express consent or it can ensure that retained data includes no identifying or sensitive details. This decision correctly places the burden of compliance on X-Mode, rather than requiring consumers — many of whom are unaware that X-Mode has their sensitive location data in the first place — to take action to protect their data.

“The FTC’s ongoing role here is crucial, given the inability of consumers to independently verify that their data has been deleted or de-identified. That continued enforcement role is also crucial in light of the FTC’s allegations regarding X-Mode’s past handling of sensitive, identifiable location data — as well as the company’s disregard for people’s clearly expressed privacy preferences.”

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