The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week settled with the developer of Android app Brightest Flashlight, after it was discovered the company was collecting data from users and selling it to third parties without consent.
Brightest Flashlight is a free flashlight app available on Google play, and it has been downloaded between fifty and a hundred million times. In its description it explains that the app is free, but funded by adding a Search icon to your home screen, and a Search homepage on your browser.
As we have reported before, free apps and services imply data use by the companies involved. Data is a way to monetize apps and services like Facebook, but these companies have to be clear about how your data is used. Facebook is improving, but there are probably lots of apps like Brightest Flashlight that are less clear.
When you install an app on Android, you can see the data permissions the app requires, but you can’t choose which to accept. It’s not excusable, but it seems many users do not even check this. We should ask ‘why does a flashlight app need my location data’ before installing.
The popular CyanogenMod for Android now has a privacy mode that allows you to control location data, while also returning empty data sets for anything else an app requests. However, such controls also exist in Android KitKat, but are currently hidden. Some special apps, like App Ops Starter, can be installed to access these data controls. We assume since the controls are there, that Android will get such an app built-in soon.