Data Brokers Misusing Geolocation Information Investigated

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requiring action to safeguard customers and investors from Near Intelligence Inc, a data broker owned by the public. Sen. Wyden started checking out Near Intelligence in May 2023 after The Wall Street Journal published a report that exposed the non-profit anti-abortion group based in Wisconsin, The Veritas Society, and its use of geolocation information acquired from Near Intelligence to perform a misinformation campaign on women believed of getting abortion.

Geolocation data is obtained through code that is integrated into mgobile phone apps. The code gets location information and transfers it together with other details from the user’s device. The details gathered show a person’s movements, which include visits to sensitive places for example reproductive health facilities, places of worship, healthcare organizations, and other sensitive areas. The geolocation information can be linked to a person and reveals how long they remained at a specific place, with the information correct to a few meters.

Recrue Media, the advertising agency of The Veritas Society, used Near Intelligence to get the geolocation details of people who went to Planned Parenthood clinics and utilized that data for the marketing campaign. Recrue Media conducted the ad campaign for The Veritas Society between November 2019 and the summer of 2022, which coincided with the overturning of the Roe vs. Wade decision of the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Sen. Wyden spoke with Steven Bogue, Recrue Media’s Co-Founder and Managing Principal, on May 19, 2023, who showed that to perform the targeted campaign, his staff employed the Near Intelligence website to geofence Planned Parenthood clinics and parking spaces. Persons who stopped by a Planned Parenthood clinic located in one of the 48 states were then targeted. The Veritas Society stated that in 2020, it carried out a campaign that showed 14.3 million adverts to women who had been to abortion clinics, with the advertisements pushed out to their social media pages on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

A second investigation of Near Intelligence conducted by The Wall Street Journal in October 2023 revealed that the company also sold geolocation data to the U.S. government. Near Intelligence had offered the information to a defense contractor, which sold the information to the U.S. intelligence services and the Defense Department. Near Intelligence’s Chief Privacy Officer, Jay Angelo, explained to Sen. Wyden that the company did not have the technical abilities to prevent customers from targeting persons who went to sensitive locations. He additionally confirmed that Near Intelligence had been offering location information to the defense company, AELIUS Exploitation Technologies, for three years and that the geolocation data files had been compiled without user permission. The Near Intelligence website explained that the data obtained would not be given to governments. Angelo became part of Near Intelligence in June 2022 and carried out an analysis of the company’s practices, which showed that the company was selling geolocation information to the U.S. government. When the evaluation was concluded, those claims were deleted from the website.

Near Intelligence had a notably awful financial year and has filed for bankruptcy. A statement provided in its December 11, 2023 bankruptcy hearing affirmed that ex-officials are under criminal investigation and that the SEC has started an investigation of the organization in connection with a data breach that happened in France, which involved transmitting the data files of E.U citizens to the United States government.

The Federal Trade Commission is putting a stop to the gathering and vending of geolocation information that was obtained without authorization and has recently resolved a complaint with the data broker Outlogic/X-Mode Social. Sen. Wyden requested FTC Chair, the Honorable Lina Khan, to make Near Intelligence stop vending the information it has obtained to another firm or data broker during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings and to make certain that the geolocation and device data it keeps is completely deleted. Sen. Wyden stated that in this case, The Veritas Society performed a false information campaign, yet the same geolocation information could be utilized by right-wing prosecutors in states with bans on abortions to prosecute women who go to abortion centers in states where abortions are authorized.

Sen. Wyden also asked the SEC Chair, the Honorable Gary Gensler, to broaden the SEC’s investigation of Near Intelligence and look into whether the misleading reports Near Intelligence presented to Congress about whether geolocation data files were acquired with users’ permission violated HIPAA regulations. Federal watchdogs ought to hold [Near Intelligence] responsible for abusing Americans’ private data. And Congress needs to ensure extremist politicians can’t purchase this kind of sensitive data without a warrant at the earliest opportunity.

About the Author

Elizabeth Hernandez
Elizabeth Hernandez is the editor of HIPAA News. Elizabeth is an experienced journalist who has worked in the healthcare sector for several years. Her expertise is not limited to general healthcare reporting but extends to specialized areas of healthcare compliance and HIPAA compliance. Elizabeth's knowledge in these areas has made her a reliable source for information on the complexities of healthcare regulations. Elizabeth's contribution to the field extends to helping readers understand the importance of patient privacy and secure handling of health information. Elizabeth holds a postgraduate degree in journalism. You can follow Elizabeth on twitter at