Smartphones have been able to do pretty amazing things for users, from giving them unprecedented mobile access to the web, to navigating their cars via GPS, and even making actual, stand-alone cameras more or less a niche item. And one of the most useful—if basic—additions to the smartphone’s suite of benefits is the flashlight app, which simply activates the phone’s built-in LED flash for extended periods of time. But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a settlement with the maker of a flashlilght app for Android devices: apparently the app was logging users’ location data and selling that information to advertisers and other third parties.

According to the FTC’s press release from yesterday, the Android app called “Brightest Flashlight Free,” which was available on the Google Play Store from Goldenshores Technologies, LLC, has been downloaded “tens of millions of times,” and that the “privacy policy deceptively failed to disclose that the app transmitted users’ precise location and unique device identifier to third parties, including advertising networks.” Worse, there was an option users could check “to not share their information” that did absolutely nothing. So, you know, that’s a problem.

As to the settlement itself, from what I can tell, Goldenshores is getting off pretty light. The company is legally compelled to delete all the data it’s collected from users up to now, and will have to inform users of how their data is being used, and the option to actually opt-out. Chances are pretty good that a majority of users will blow right by these options and just hit “yes” in order to get to the flashlight—meaning their data will still be sent to third parties and advertisers to use however they see fit. I suppose that’s what you get for not reading the fine print, but I would’ve appreciated a bit more than a slap on the wrist for a company’s very purposeful invasion of customers’ privacy.

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If nothing else, this goes to show that when you download a program, make sure you know a bit more about who’s making it. Smartphones are great tools with lots of possibilities, but their ease of use can open the door to some really shady stuff.


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