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Better Business Bureau: Warning, smartphone apps may share your information

By By Tracy Bracy
Feb. 3, 2014 at 5 p.m.
Updated Feb. 2, 2014 at 8:03 p.m.


Smartphone apps were a great discovery for me. I can check the weather, check my email, play games and keep track of my route when I go out for a run. There are so many great free apps available. Better Business Bureau even has a free app for iPhone.

Unfortunately, many of those free apps come with strings attached, often collecting your information for marketing purposes. Most of the time, they do that with your consent (assuming you read the agreement terms before you clicked).

There's a chance your information could be shared without your consent, however. The bureau warns to make sure the apps you download don't take more information than they need to do the job.

Case in point: The Federal Trade Commission recently obtained a settlement from Goldenshores Technologies, a company that made a popular flashlight app. The FTC found that the app's privacy policy had been deceiving users into sharing their location and device information with advertising networks and other third parties. "Brightest Flashlight Free" is one of the most popular apps on Android mobile devices and has been downloaded more than 10 million times.

According to the FTC, the company's privacy policy told consumers any information the app collected would be used by the company and listed some categories of information that it might collect, including geographic location.

The privacy policy failed to mention that this private information would be released to third parties. The company was also allegedly collecting information as soon as you opened the app, before you even had a chance to accept or refuse the terms of the privacy policy.

Goldenshores Technologies agreed to settle the FTC charges. The settlement prohibits 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 them to get consumers' 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. Better Business Bureau is urging smartphone 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 smartphone and keep them set as high as you can without altering the functions of your apps (some apps, like maps and compasses, need geolocation information 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 the bureau's Children's Advertising Review Unit.

Tracy Bracy is the regional director of the Better Business Bureau for Corpus Christi/Victoria. Contact her by email at info@corpuschristi.bbb.org.

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