What Happens to Your Sensitive Data When a Data Broker Goes Bankrupt?

Article by Jon Keegan: “In 2021, a company specializing in collecting and selling location data called Near bragged that it was “The World’s Largest Dataset of People’s Behavior in the Real-World,” with data representing “1.6B people across 44 countries.” Last year the company went public with a valuation of $1 billion (via a SPAC). Seven months later it filed for bankruptcy and has agreed to sell the company.

But for the “1.6B people” that Near said its data represents, the important question is: What happens to Near’s mountain of location data? Any company could gain access to it through purchasing the company’s assets.

The prospect of this data, including Near’s collection of location data from sensitive locations such as abortion clinics, being sold off in bankruptcy has raised alarms in Congress. Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden wrote the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging the agency to “protect consumers and investors from the outrageous conduct” of Near, citing his office’s investigation into the India-based company. 

Wyden’s letter also urged 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.” The FTC took such an action in 2010 to block the use of 11 years worth of subscriber personal data during the bankruptcy proceedings of the XY Magazine, which was oriented to young gay men. The agency requested that the data be destroyed to prevent its misuse.

Wyden’s investigation was spurred by a May 2023 Wall Street Journal report that Near had licensed location data to the anti-abortion group Veritas Society so it could target ads to visitors of Planned Parenthood clinics and attempt to dissuade women from seeking abortions. Wyden’s investigation revealed that the group’s geofencing campaign focused on 600 Planned Parenthood clinics in 48 states. The Journal also revealed that Near had been selling its location data to the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies...(More)”.

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