Flashlight App Developer Settles Dispute Over User Data Collection
December 6, 2013

Flashlight App Developer Settles Dispute Over User Data Collection

Enid Burns for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached a settlement with app developer Goldenshores Technologies, LLC on charges that its free Brightest Flashlight app improperly collected and shared device and location data with third parties such as ad networks. The settlement includes an immediate "just-in-time" disclosure to inform consumers of the information collected and how it is shared.

Goldenshores Technologies became the target of an FTC investigation concerning the privacy policy posted in the company's Brightest Flashlight app. The FTC complaint detailed how Goldenshores Technologies used deceptive measures in its privacy policy. The policy failed to disclose that the app transmits location data as well as unique device identifier information to third parties, such as advertising networks.

The privacy policy stated that only Goldenshores Technologies had access to location and unique device identifier data, and not shared with third parties. Further, the Brightest Flashlight app collected and immediately shared such data, even before users agreed to the terms and conditions of the app.

The Register reports the company largely ignored user content and even when users declined to provide location and device information, it was still collected and shared by the company.

"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, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in an agency statement. "But this flashlight app left them in the dark about how their information was going to be used."

As part of the settlement, the FTC prohibits Goldenshores Technologies from misrepresenting itself in how consumer information is collected and shared. The settlement also expects the app developer to give consumers the right to determine how much information is shared through the app. Goldenshores Technologies is also required to provide a "just-in-time" disclosure that fully informs consumers when, how and why their geolocation information is being collected, used and shared. As part of the agreement Goldenshores Technologies is also required to allow consumers to make the determination on how much data are shared with the app developer and third parties.

The FTC said it will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register. The consent agreement package is subject to public comment for 30 days ending January 6. At that point, the Commission will decide whether to make any changes or make the proposed consent order final. The settlement agreement also requires Goldenshores Technologies to delete all data it has gathered from consumers who have downloaded the app.

The Brightest Flashlight app has been downloaded tens of millions of times by users of the Android operating system, the FTC said.

Earlier this year, the FTC settled a case with Path Social Networking App, saying the company deceived consumers and improperly collected personal information from mobile address books.

Interestingly enough, the FTC is taking action against app developers at a time when the US government is under scrutiny for collecting data on its own citizens.

"The US government is hardly in much of a position to shame the private sector over the covert collection of user data. Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported the NSA may be maintaining an archive which tracks the mobile activity of billions of people around the world as part of an effort to monitor terrorist activities," the Register article said.