Perhaps the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took the phrase “crime doesn’t pay” a bit too literally. The government agency has reported reaching a settlement with one-man company GoldenShores Technology regarding its spying Flashlight Android app and imposed a punishment that practically only constitutes a reprimand and some guidelines to follow.
Last December, we reported on a seemingly innocuous Android utility named Brightest Flashlight that, as the name implies, turns your device’s LED flash into a torch. Unbeknown to tens of millions of downloaders, the app also collected personal data to be sold to the highest bidder. And, of course, it does so without notifying the user before hand, hiding behind unnecessary Android app permissions that most users simply breeze through.
It was actually thanks to the FTC’s openness that the public even got whiff of this app. Unfortunately, it’s that same openness that is revealing how the FTC might not be giving the situation its best, or strictest, attention. The FTC is ordering GoldenShores to delete all data it has collected within 10 days of the order taking effect. However, the order doesn’t really prevent the company from collecting such data in the future as long as it clearly informs users that the app will do so, the extent of data collection, and the recipients of such data. Furthermore, GoldenShores is required to keep records for the FTC to inspect and also inform the agency of any new business ventures in the next 10 years.
But perhaps most noticeable part of the settlement is what isn’t present: any form of fine or financial recompense. The FTC’s reasoning is that the app was offered for free and, therefore, didn’t warrant any monetary damages. However, it seems to have ignored the possibility that GoldenShores might have already profited from selling the data it has gathered, which definitely calls for some fines. While we definitely appreciate the FTC being quite open to the public about such cases, this practical slap on the wrist might just prove to miscreants that the commission’s bark is worse than its bite.