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Developer who sold data on millions of users gets away with a slap on the wrist

FTC tells developer of Brightest Flashlight app to stop being a naughty boy and to cease selling user geolocation data, but it doesn't issue a fine or ask for the app to be removed from Google Play.
April 15, 2014
Back in December we reported on the popular flashlight app,  Brightest Flashlight, that was making money not only through legitimate ads but by also secretly selling specific geolocation data and device ID information to 3rd party advertisers. The app, which has been downloaded more than 50 million times, was sending location data back to the author who in turn was selling it to the highest bidder. A complaint was filed with the FTC and now after several months of investigation (and negotiation) the commission has made a ruling.

Big fines? Forced removal from the Google Play Store? No and no. The FTC in its wisdom has basically issued a ruling which tells the author to stop being a naughty boy and to cease selling the data. In what could be viewed as a fairly toothless judgement, the FTC has ordered GoldenShores Technologies, LLC and its founder Erik M. Geidl to stop misrepresenting what the company does with the collected geolocation data. It must also “clearly and prominently” inform users about how the app collects such data.

GoldenShores also needs to delete all the geolocation and device specific data that it has collected.
In FTC parlance “clearly and prominently” means that hiding a section about collecting location data in an end user license agreement isn’t sufficient, but rather users of the app must be informed immediately prior to the initial collection of or transmission of any location data. Or in other words, the app must display a warning message that it will be collecting personal data.

The only part of the ruling that seems to have any bite is the part where GoldenShores also needs to delete all the geolocation and device specific data that it has collected. The company must also behave itself for the next ten years and is requited to keep a record of all documents pertaining to the app including any future terms of use or end user license agreements etc.

If Erik M. Geidl wants to try a quick bait-and-switch with the FTC then he can’t as the commission is also demanding that for the next five years all current and future directors and employees get a copy of the FTC’s judgement and the FTC needs to be told about any changes to GoldenShores Technologies, LLC including it being sold or closed down.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a fairy tale world and the moral of this little story isn’t that the bad guy always gets his comeuppance, but rather than it is OK to make money illegally as long as you stop once you have been caught.