Do You Know What You’re Downloading?

By Ama Debrah, 2012 Summer Legal Program Intern

A recent NPR report illuminates the increasingly invasive nature of several mobile phone apps.  Once downloaded, these apps automatically add advertising programs and notifications to your smart phone without alerting you or asking for your consent.  The report states that these apps can also change the settings on your mobile phone or browser and even collect and sell your private information, like your phone number or e-mail address, to advertisers or other third parties.

To make matters worse, the number of apps with this technology is steadily growing.  An estimated one out of twenty free apps for Android phones use similar spamming techniques, which adds up to a minimum of 80 million downloads of these invasive apps.  Although these apps might just seem bothersome or annoying, these small privacy breaches open the door to frightening possibilities.  Apps that are able to access and change your phone data may also be able to use your collected GPS data to predict “within 20 meters where you will be in 24 hours in the future.”

In light of these growing privacy concerns, Hawaii has passed legislation protecting your consumer privacy rights.  Act 191, which was signed into law this past legislative session, puts limitations on the scanning and retention of the personal information located in the machine-readable zone of your driver’s license or state identification card.  Prior to Act 191, businesses could legally scan your driver’s license for any purpose and do whatever they wanted with your information.  As with the invasive mobile phone apps, businesses could choose to send or sell your personal information to outside parties for marketing, promotional, or advertising purposes, which increases the risk of identity theft.  Now, there are strict regulations on when businesses can scan your card and what they can do with that information to ensure that your identity and privacy rights are fully protected.

With issues such as these, the need for government legislation to protect our privacy rights is even more urgent.  On July 12, discussion began for the White House’s “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” which is expected to include a clause for consumer transparency that will ensure that Internet and mobile app providers inform customers about their privacy and security rights on the Internet. The privacy bill of rights is also projected to include a provision for focused collection, which will place limitations on the personal data that companies are allowed to collect, retain, and transmit to third parties.

To read more about the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” click here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/02/23/we-can-t-wait-obama-administration-unveils-blueprint-privacy-bill-rights

To listen to the full NPR report, click here:

http://www.npr.org/2012/07/12/156651950/mobile-ad-networks-accused-of-invasive-apps

To read Act 191, click here:

http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2012/bills/HB1061_.htm