FTC Takes Dim View of Flashlight App That Shared Users’ Location Data Without Permission

One of the most popular Android downloads

The Federal Trade Commission took a dim view of one of the most popular mobile apps after discovering the Brightest Flashlight Free app deceived consumers by sharing their location information without their knowledge.

Goldenshores Technologies, makers of the flashlight app for Android, settled with the FTC over charges it shared users' precise location and unique device identifier with third parties and ad networks, even after consumers opted not to share their information.

Since February 2011, the app has been downloaded to more than 50 million Android phones.

"This flashlight app left [consumers] in the dark about how their information was going to be used," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection.

The case is the FTC's first privacy case that involves the collection of location data from a mobile device, an issue that has drawn the attention of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has held hearings on mobile phone privacy and location tracking with Google and Apple. His location privacy bill, requiring companies to obtain permission before collecting location information was voted out of the judiciary committee last year. 

In its complaint, the FTC found that the app's privacy policy fell short because it failed to disclose that the information it was collecting would be shared with third parties. Even before a user was given the option to accept or refuse the terms of the agreement, the app was already collecting and sending information to third parties, including location and the unique device identifier.

The settlement with the FTC prohibits Goldenshores from misrepresenting how consumer information is collected and shared, requiring the company to provide just-in-time disclosure about when, how and why their location information is used and shared. The company must also delete any personal information that has been collected from consumers.