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Privacy

Following Markup Investigation, U.S. Regulators Questioned Life360’s Data Practices

The family safety company was approached by regulators about its data sales

Illustration of the Life360 logo broken into fragments, surrounded by location pins that are missing pixels.
Gabriel Hongsdusit

In its 2021 Annual Report published on Tuesday, the family safety app Life360 disclosed to investors that it has been approached by unnamed U.S. regulators seeking information about its data protection practices. The company cited The Markup’s investigation into its data sales as an impetus, saying requests had followed publication of the article.  

“Life360 has received requests for information about its data protection practices from US regulators, including following the publication of an article by a media outlet called The Markup in relation to Life360’s data business in 4Q21, which Life360 is responding to in due course,” the company disclosed in the report.

It’s unclear which agency is making the request. The Markup asked the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Securities and Exchange Commission if they were the regulator referenced in the report. FTC spokesperson Juliana Gruenwald and CFPB spokesperson Tia Elbaum declined to comment. The SEC did not respond to our requests for comment. We also reached out to the attorneys general for California and New York. The press office for the California attorney general said it could not confirm nor deny any investigation. The New York attorney general’s office did not respond to our request for comment.   

Privacy experts have frequently expressed concern about the multibillion-dollar location data industry, which profits from trading information about people’s whereabouts. The data often includes sensitive information like where people live, where they work, and places they’ve been, which can all be used to identify individuals despite the industry’s efforts to anonymize the data. The Markup has also found that data brokers have little control over where the location data they sell ends up. 

Life360 markets itself as a family safety app for tracking your loved ones through cellphone location data. Its marketing material promotes its services to parents of teens.

In December, The Markup revealed that the company was, in some cases, selling almost real-time data on the whereabouts of its 35 million users to about a dozen data brokers. Former employees of companies that trade in location data described the app as one of the largest sources of precise location data in the industry. In 2020, location data sales generated $16 million for Life360, making up nearly 20 percent of the company’s revenue for the year. 

Following The Markup’s report, Life360 announced it was massively scaling back its deals with data brokers, contracting with only one data broker, Placer.ai, to sell aggregated data for a three-year period, and with Allstate’s Arity to sell precise data. 

The company’s new annual report captures an eventful year for the San Francisco–based company, which is publicly traded on the Australian Securities Exchange. In November, the company purchased location tracker company Tile for more than $200 million, its largest acquisition to date. While revenue and the number of users on the platform grew substantially in 2021, Life360 remained unprofitable, and over the course of the past year its losses more than doubled, to $33.5 million. 

Life360 did not respond to our request for comment. 

In a letter to shareholders in the report, Life360 CEO Chris Hulls said that “indirect revenue” from data sales and the Arity partnership increased 13 percent year over year to $25 million.  The company has told investors that it seeks to go public in the U.S. in 2022. 

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