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FTC torches Android flashlight app for spying on users

Developer agrees to settle charges of harvesting data

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The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a clampdown on an Android developer accused of covertly harvesting and selling user locational data.

The FTC said that it has reached a settlement with Goldenshores Technologies, a US developer behind the "Brightest Flashlight" mobile application, a free download which the FTC said had been installed on "tens of millions" of Android devices.

According to the FTC, the Brightest Flashlight application not only provided users with a handy light, but also collected data on their location and device ID. The collected information was then sold to third-party advertisers.

When the developers did notify users about the application's activities, the FTC said, information was inaccurately displayed or a user's preferences not to have their data shared were ignored. Additionally, the commission charged that Brightest Flashlight would track and transmit user information even before users had the chance to read the EULA and accept or decline the terms of the agreement.

"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 FTC consumer protection bureau director Jessica Rich.

"But this flashlight app left them in the dark about how their information was going to be used."

Under the terms of the deal, the FTC said that Goldenshores will be barred from covertly collecting information about users and transmitting without consent. Further, the company will be required to fully disclose how it handles user information and obtain permission before handling any user data.

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 that 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.

That system, which authorities have contended is not illegal, is able to track user movements across multiple access points and identify when a device is likely being used by an associate or an accomplice of a suspected criminal. ®

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