The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced on Thursday that it settled with the maker of a popular Android mobile flashlight application over charges that the company used deceptive advertising to collect location and device information from Android owners.
The FTC announced the settlement with Goldenshores Technologies, LLC of Moscow, Indiana, makers of the “Brightest Flashlight Free” Android application, saying that the company failed to disclose wanton harvesting and sharing of customers’ location and mobile device identity with third parties.
Brightest Flashlight Free is a top download from Google Play, the main Android marketplace. Statistics from the site indicate that it has been downloaded more than one million times with an overall rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars.
The application, which is available for free, displays mobile advertisements on the devices that it is installed on. However, the device also harvested a wide range of data from Android phones which was shared with advertisers including what the FTC describes as “precise geolocation along with persistent device identifiers.”
Consumers also were presented with a false choice when they downloaded the app, according to the complaint, with Goldenshores harvesting user information from the device and sending it to third-party advertisers even before a consumer had a chance to read and accept the terms of its End User License Agreement, according to the FTC complaint.
The settlement with the FTC prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting how consumers’ information is collected and shared and how much control consumers have over the way their information is used. The settlement also requires the defendants to provide a just-in-time disclosure that fully informs consumers when, how, and why their geolocation information is being collected, used and shared, and requires defendants to obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before doing so.
Goldenshores was ordered to change its advertisements and in-app disclosures to make explicit any collection of geolocation information, how it is or may be used, the reason for collecting location information and which third parties that data is shared with.
“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 a statement. “But this flashlight app left them in the dark about how their information was going to be used.”
The FTC has made violations of fair advertising and consumer privacy a top issue. The Commission hosted a one day forum on mobile privacy and security threats in June of 2013. In February of this year, the Commission Earlier this month, the released a Staff Report that called on mobile OS, mobile device and mobile application firms to provide clearer guidelines to consumers about how their information will be used, and to build better privacy protections into phones and mobile apps.