On October 22, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission reached a proposed settlement with the developer of three so-called “stalking” apps that enabled purchasers of the app to secretly monitor the mobile devices on which they were installed. Developer Retina-X Studios, LLC and its owner James N. Johns marketed the three apps—MobileSpy, PhoneSheriff, and TeenShield—as a means to monitor children and employees by sharing detailed information about these individuals’ smart phone activities, including their text messages and GPS locations. The FTC complaint alleges that the developer failed to ensure that the apps would be used for legitimate and lawful purposes, did not secure personal information collected from children and other users, and misrepresented the extent to which that information would be kept confidential.
While the FTC settlement represents its first case against developers of tracking apps, the complaint’s allegations rely on provisions of the FTC Act that are broadly applicable to companies that collect, store, and/or monitor users’ personal information, as well as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”):
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