Advertiser Nailed for Targeting Phones in Abortion Clinics

BOSTON (CN) – A digital advertising company agreed Tuesday not to target “abortion-minded” women at Massachusetts health clinics with geofencing technology.

Geofencing allows advertisers to tailor their marketing based on the specific geographic location that a consumer’s smartphone or tablet has entered.

In the case at hand, a Brookline, Mass-based Copley Advertising had set up mobile geofences near reproductive-health and methadone clinics.

Any consumer who “tripped” the fence would for the next 30 days face advertisements targeted at why they might have been in a clinic waiting room. These ads included banners for “Pregnancy Help,” “You Have Choices,” and “You’re Not Alone.” If clicked, they took the consumer to a webpage with information about abortion alternatives and access to a live web chat with a “pregnancy support specialist.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said the practices violate state consumer-protection laws.

Copley Advertising filed an assurance of discontinuance Tuesday in Suffolk County Superior Court to settle Healey’s claims that it had been tracking women’s physical location near or within medical facilities, disclosing their locations to third-party advertisers, and making inferences about their intimate medical details to launch unwanted advertisements.

Copley Advertising primarily promotes itself as a marketing service for retailers but began to work with anti-abortion advocacy groups last year.

Though based in Massachusetts, none of its anti-abortion-minded geofencing occurred in the commonwealth.

Healey said its campaign took place near reproductive health centers and methadone clinics in Columbus, New York City, Pittsburgh, Richmond and St. Louis.

The settlement assures that Copley will not use geofencing technology at or near Massachusetts health care facilities to infer the health status, medical condition, or medical treatment of any individual.

“While geofencing can have positive benefits for consumers, it is also a technology that has the potential to digitally harass people and interfere with health privacy,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. “Consumers are entitled to privacy in their medical decisions and conditions. This settlement will help ensure that consumers in Massachusetts do not have to worry about being targeted by advertisers when they seek medical care.”

John Flynn, Copley Advertiser’s sole owner and operator, did not immediately respond to a voicemail request for comment.

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