Life360 Secretly Sells Users’ Geolocation Data to Third Parties, Class Action Claims
Last Updated on January 23, 2023
E.S. v. Life360 Inc
Filed: January 12, 2023 ◆§ 4:23-cv-00168
A class action alleges family tracking app Life360 secretly sells data about users’ locations and movements to third parties.
A proposed class action alleges family tracking app Life360 secretly sells data about users’ locations and movements to third parties.
The 14-page case claims Life360, which markets itself as a tool that allows parents to track their children’s whereabouts using their cellphones, fails to obtain consent before collecting and selling consumers’ geolocation data to roughly a dozen data brokers, including Safegraph, Arity, Cuebiq and X-Mode, who in turn can sell the data to “virtually anyone who wants to buy it.”
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Per the suit, geolocation data is a valuable commodity to advertisers, government agencies and investors, who make use of insights that can be derived from consumers’ locations and movements.
With more than 33 million users, Life360 is one of the largest sources of location data in the data broker industry, the complaint asserts. According to a 2021 article published by The Markup and cited in the complaint:
“A former X-Mode engineer said the raw location data the company received from Life360 was among X-Mode’s most valuable offerings due to the sheer volume and precision of the data. A former Cuebiq employee joked that the company wouldn’t be able to run its marketing campaigns without Life360’s constant flow of location data.”
Although Life360 claims it has a policy prohibiting the selling or marketing of its consumer information to government agencies for law enforcement purposes, CEO Chris Hulls has admitted that the company has no control over how third parties handle geolocation data after it’s been purchased, the suit says. Incidentally, the case explains, X-Mode and Safegraph are known to sell data to law enforcement agencies and provide raw data feeds to government partners.
“Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated how location data of the type that Defendant sells, that has been ‘anonymized’ [sic] can easily be connected to the people from whom it came,” the case reads. “This is by design, since if Defendant had taken the necessary precautions to properly anonymize the data, the data would be less valuable to third parties.”
The app employs no technical controls to prohibit its customers from identifying consumers and instead puts its trust in its customers to “voluntarily obfuscate” data, even though many of the abovementioned data brokers have been under fire for how they handle data and privacy, the suit argues.
“For example, X-Mode was banned from most app stores after it was discovered that the company was selling location data from Muslim prayer apps like Muslim Pro to U.S. government contractors associated with national security, raising concerns about unconstitutional government surveillance,” the filing reads.
The complaint further contends that Life360’s data-sharing practice allows third parties to track consumers to sensitive locations. As the case tells it, the sale of this data “poses an unwarranted intrusion into the most private areas of consumers’ lives,” and in some cases, can put people in harm’s way by exposing them to stigma, discrimination, violence or emotional distress.
“For example, the data may be used to identify consumers who have visited an abortion clinic and, as a result, may have had or contemplated having an abortion. In fact, it is possible to identify a mobile device that visited a women’s reproductive health clinic and trace that mobile device to a single-family residence. The data set also reveals that the same mobile device was at a particular location at least three evenings in the same week, suggesting the mobile device user’s routine. The data may also be used to identify medical professionals who perform, or assist in the performance, of abortion services.”
Because Life360 collects location data directly from the app and sells it to third parties through its own servers, no data broker’s code is located within the app to signal to users that it is selling their data, the suit charges. According to the case, this setup also prevents the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store from discovering that Life360 sells location data to third parties, a practice that violates the latter’s policy terms.
The suit, filed by a minor, claims that neither the plaintiff nor his parents gave Life360 permission to sell the child’s geolocation data to data brokers and for this information to be commercially exploited by any number of actors.
The lawsuit seeks to cover anyone in the United States whose data, including but not limited to their geolocation data, was sold by Life360 without their consent.
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