Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

FTC expands focus on tracking and use of consumers’ location data

By Roxane A Polidora, Catherine D Meyer, Lindsay A Lutz and Kristen E Baker

Over the past few years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has provided guidance regarding mobile platforms and app providers’ practices of collecting data about consumers’ locations through their mobile devices, with a focus on transparency and notice to consumers. The FTC recently hosted a spring seminar on emerging consumer privacy issues that focused on a new type of mobile device tracking: brick-and-mortar businesses tracking consumer movements in or around their premises using signals from the consumer’s mobile device.

In March 2012, the FTC published its report, Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change. The report contained a case study on data collection for mobile phones and noted that the unique features of a mobile phone — users keep it on all the time and carry it with them wherever they go — facilitate ‘unprecedented levels’ of data collection. Particularly as to the collection of location data, the FTC called upon companies to disclose the frequency or extent of the collection and transfer and use of location data and to give consumers more prominent notice and choices about the sharing of location data with third parties.

In February 2013, the FTC again weighed in on this issue through its report, Mobile Privacy Disclosures: Building Trust Through Transparency. As to mobile apps, the FTC stated that if an ‘app developer decides to share that geolocation data with a third party, the app developer should provide a just-in-time disclosure and obtain affirmative consent from users for that data sharing’. The FTC guidance focused on how transparency in disclosures allows consumers to give informed consent regarding the collection of their data, how their data is used and the types of third parties, such as advertisers and analytics firms, with whom their data is shared…

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