MA AG Takes Action Against
Healthcare Facility Geofencing
April 7, 2017
Advertising Company Targeted People Entering Reproductive Health
Clinics with Ads on Their Mobile Devices
digital advertising company that was hired to use mobile
geofencing technology to target women entering reproductive
health facilities has been prohibited from doing so in
Massachusetts pursuant to a settlement announced today by
Attorney General Maura Healey.
Geofencing is a technology that allows digital advertising
companies to direct advertisements to users through browsers and
applications on their devices when those users are located in a
“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,” said AG Healey.
“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.”
Copley Advertising, LLC (Copley) is a company based in
Massachusetts and owned and managed solely by John F. Flynn of
In the spring of 2015, Copley was hired to direct targeted
advertisements—using geofencing—to “abortion-minded women”
sitting in waiting rooms at health clinics.
Geofencing creates a virtual “fence” around a specified location
that is tripped when a person crosses the “fence” with a phone
or other mobile device. Once the geofence is tripped, an
advertiser will attempt to display an ad in an open app or web
browser on the person’s mobile device. The ad is typically
tailored to that location and other information about the user.
The mobile device also may be tagged so that advertisements can
be directly pushed to it whenever the same app or browser page
is opened in the future. Consumers may not realize when they
installed these apps that the app would disclose their location
information for purposes unrelated to the app, including
In its advertising campaign, Copley set mobile geofences at or
near reproductive health centers and methadone clinics in
Columbus, New York City, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and St. Louis.
When a consumer entered the geofenced area near these locations,
Copley tagged the consumer’s device ID and served advertisements
to the consumer’s device for up to 30 days.
The advertisements included text such as “Pregnancy Help,” “You
Have Choices,” and “You’re Not Alone” that, if clicked, took the
consumer to a webpage with information about abortion
alternatives and access to a live web chat with a “pregnancy
support specialist.” Copley has represented that it has not yet
engaged in geofencing campaigns near reproductive health clinics
in Massachusetts, although it has the ability to do so.
settlement, resolved through an Assurance of Discontinuance
filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, resolves allegations that
Copley’s practices would violate consumer protection laws in
Massachusetts by tracking a consumer’s physical location near or
within medical facilities, disclosing that location to
third-party advertisers, and targeting the consumer with
potentially unwanted advertising based on inferences about his
or her private, sensitive, and intimate medical or physical
condition, all without the consumer’s knowing consent.
The settlement assures that Copley will not use geofencing
technology at or near Massachusetts healthcare facilities to
infer the health status, medical condition, or medical treatment
of any individual.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Jared
Rinehimer and Director of Data Privacy and Security and
Assistant Attorney General Sara Cable of AG Healey’s Consumer
Protection Division, with assistance from Investigator Kristin
Salera of AG Healey’s Civil Investigations Division.