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Smart Phones May be Sharing Your Information

Published Friday, January 3, 2014 12:02 am

CLEARWATER -- Smart phone apps can make life easier, putting dozens of useful tools in the palm of your hand. But BBB is warning consumers to make sure the apps they download don’t take more information than they need to do the job.

 

In a recent settlement by the Federal Trade Commission, the agency found that a flashlight app’s privacy policy had been deceiving users into sharing their geographic location and device information with advertising networks and other third parties. “Brightest Flashlight Free," developed by Goldenshores Technologies, LLC, is one of the most popular apps on Android mobile devices and has been downloaded more than 10 million times.

 

However, according to the FTC, the company's privacy policy told consumers that any information collected by the app would be used by the company, and listed some categories of information that it might collect, including geographic location. The privacy policy failed, however, to mention that this private information would be released to third parties. The complaint also involved the company collecting information as soon as users opened the app, even before accepting or refusing the terms of the privacy policy.

 

Goldenshores Technologies has agreed to settle the FTC charges. The settlement goes on to prohibit the company from misrepresenting how users' information is collected and shared and how much control users have over the way the information is shared. It also requires defendants to obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before collecting, using and sharing information.

 

It’s not always easy to tell if an app is going to collect your information or how it will use it. BBB is urging smart phone users to:

 

· Research companies and apps before downloading, including industry publications and user reviews;

· Read the full privacy policy (and, on Android phones, the “Permissions” screen);

· Opt out of location sharing when prompted;

· Periodically check all privacy settings on your smart phone and keep them set as high as you can without altering the functions of your apps (some apps, like maps and compasses, need geo-location information in order to work properly);

· Update your apps when a new version comes out (your phone should alert you); often app updates fix “bugs” from earlier versions;

· Delete apps you no longer use from your phone.

 

For information on apps for children, check out BBB’s Children’s Advertising Review Unit. For more tips you can trust, visit bbb.org.

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