Android Brightest Flashlight app shared user location without permission

Photo(Jim Hood @ ConsumerAffairs) You wouldn't expect your flashlight to spy on you, but the Federal Trade Commission says that's just what one of the most popular Android apps does.

The "Brightest Flashlight Free" app has been download millions of times by Android users who, presumably, never expected that the app would report their whereabouts to the app developer, Goldenshores Technologies LLC, and its clients. 

The FTC filed a complain against the company and its manager, Erik M. Geidl, charging that the company's privacy policy deceptively fails to disclose that the app will report their geolocation and unique device identifier to third parties, mostly advertising and marketing networks.

In addition, the complaint alleged that the company deceived consumers by presenting them with an option to not share their information, even though it was shared automatically rendering the option meaningless.

The company has settled the complaint by agreeing to stop spying on its users and delete any information it still has about them.

“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 Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But this flashlight app left them in the dark about how their information was going to be used.”

A few facts omitted

In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Goldenshores’ privacy policy told consumers that any information collected by the Brightest Flashlight app would be used by the company, and listed some categories of information that it might collect. The policy, however, did not mention that the information would also be sent to third parties, such as advertising networks.

Consumers also were presented with a false choice when they downloaded the app, according to the complaint. Upon first opening the app, they were shown the company’s End User License Agreement, which included information on data collection. At the bottom of the license agreement, consumers could click to “Accept” or “Refuse” the terms of the agreement.

Even before a consumer had a chance to accept those terms, though, the application was already collecting and sending information to third parties – including location and the unique device identifier.

The settlement with the FTC prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting how consumers’ information is collected and shared and how much control consumers have over the way their information is used. The settlement also requires the defendants to provide a just-in-time disclosure that fully informs consumers when, how, and why their geolocation information is being collected, used and shared, and requires defendants to obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before doing so.

The defendants also will be required to delete any personal information collected from consumers through the Brightest Flashlight app.