An Android developer is going to settle charges with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over their free application masquerading as an innocent flashlight application that actually transmitted the “precise location” data of millions of users to third-party advertisers.
Android apps have been notorious for their invasions of privacy. Reports earlier this year revealed that the Facebook application for Android stole users’ phone numbers without their consent and in early 2012 the Facebook application was shown to spy on users’ text messages. An early 2013 report also showed that Google sent personal information to app developers without the knowledge or consent of users.
In this case, the application called “Brightest Flashlight Free,” downloaded between 50 and 100 million times, was shown to send location data to advertisers along with the unique device identifier, all without the user having any clue it was going on.
The app description on the Google Play store makes no mention of this practice.
The FTC complaint states that the developers “deceived consumers about how their geolocation information would be shared with advertising networks and other third parties,” a charge which they apparently did not dispute.
To make matters even worse, the application actually presented users “with an option to not share their information, even though it was shared automatically rendering the option meaningless.”
The deceptive practices of the developer did not end there.
Users were presented with the company’s End User License Agreement, which included a section on data collection, when first opening the application.
The bottom of the application allowed users to either accept or refuse the terms, but the app was collecting and transmitting personal information to third parties before the user accepted anything.
“When consumers are given a real, informed choice, they can decide for themselves whether the benefit of a service is worth the information they must share to use it,” said Jessica Rich, the director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC. “But this flashlight app left them in the dark about how their information was going to be used.”
In the settlement reached between the FTC and GoldenShores Technologies, the developer can no longer deceive users about how their information is collected and shared.
Furthermore, consumers will have control over the way their information is used and will be fully informed about “when, how, and why their geolocation information is being collected, used and shared.”
In the future, GoldenShores Technologies will be required to get the “affirmative express consent” from users before collecting and sharing location data.
The company is also required to delete personal data collected from users through the Brightest Flashlight app as part of the settlement.
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