Answering the centuries’ old question, it appears it is the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) that watches the watchmen. The FTC sent warning letters to a pair of foreign app developers cautioning them that their practices of collecting children’s geolocation data without parental consent may be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). The letters warned China-based Gator Group Co. Ltd. and recently-defunct Sweden-based Tinitell, Inc. that companies targeting U.S. children must comply with U.S. privacy laws regardless of where they are based. The FTC also sent copies of the warning letters to the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, which make the apps available to consumers. While the apps give parents peace of mind by enabling them to track their children’s location to ensure they are safe, that benefit is negated when parents are not aware that that information is being collected and stored in a way that enables others to access that same data.
Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”) has agreed to an expansion of its initial August 2017 proposed consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), in light of revelations of an additional security breach in October 2016, which it knew about but did not disclose until November 2017, after it settled over its initial May 2014 breach. The second security breach occurred right in the middle of the FTC’s nonpublic investigation into Uber’s security practices from the initial breach; nevertheless, Uber failed to disclose the breach. Both breaches resulted from Uber’s lax security practices and Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen described them as “strikingly similar.” In light of the additional information, the FTC withdrew from the original proposed settlement it reached after the May 2014 breach, expanded the terms, and threatened to fine Uber for future incidents. In an attempt by new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to set a new tone for the company, Uber agreed to the revised terms on April 12. Continue Reading Failure to Signal: Uber Forced to Accept Expanded Settlement after Concealing Security Breach from FTC
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) clarified in recent guidance how the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) applies to internet-connected device companies and other businesses that collect and use children’s voice recordings.
COPPA compliance is necessary for all commercial websites and online or mobile service operators that collect personal information of children under the age of 13. Previously, the FTC has released clarifying updates regarding requirements for companies obtaining verifiable parental consent and the applicability of the law to educational institutions and businesses that provide online services to educational institutions. More recently, it has become important for new business models, such as those involved with Internet of Things devices, to understand how they can remain in compliance with COPPA obligations. In light of COPPA enforcement actions in recent years, we have prepared a helpful guide to ensure businesses know how to avoid violations. Continue Reading FTC Provides Additional Guidance on COPPA Policy for Voice Recordings
Uber failed consumers in two key ways: First by misrepresenting the extent to which it monitored its employees’ access to personal information about users and drivers, and second by misrepresenting that it took reasonable steps to secure that data….This case shows that, even if you’re a fast growing company, you can’t leave consumers behind: you must honor your privacy and security promises.”
–Acting Federal Trade Commission Chair Maureen K. Oldhausen, In the Matter of Uber Technologies, Inc., Consent Order
To read more about this important FTC Consent Order and its implications for all companies with respect to privacy policies and the promises made to users/consumers, check out this Mintz Levin Privacy Alert.
Recently, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) asked the FTC to begin an investigation into a Google program called “Store Sales Management.” The purpose of Store Sales Management is to allow for the matching goods purchased in physical brick and mortar stores to the clicking of online ads, or as we refer to the practice, “Bricks to Clicks.”
The significance of this is immense. No longer will advertisers have to wonder how much revenue can be tied to a specific campaign, instead the Store Sales Management will give them insight into how actual consumers who viewed advertisements purchased certain products. Continue Reading FTC Asked to Investigate Google’s Matching of “Bricks to Clicks”
Oregon’s legislature recently expanded the scope of statutory consumer protections by passing a bill to amend the state’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act (the “Act”). Recently, Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown signed H.B. 2090 into law after near unanimous passage by state lawmakers. The bill is particularly notable because it squarely targets online commerce and imposes liability on businesses for publishing false or misleading online privacy policies. Continue Reading Oregon Ramps up State Consumer Protections in an Era of Deregulation
“Don’t make promises that you don’t intend to keep” is an admonishment received by every child and delivered by every parent. This pithy maxim is equally applicable to consent orders entered into with regulatory authorities. Indeed, Upromise’s failure to abide by it is costing the company $500,000 in the form of a civil penalty from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Continue Reading More Broken Privacy Promises from Upromise: Key Takeaways From Upromise’s Latest Settlement with the FTC
What does your TV-watching history say about you? According to a recent lawsuit against VIZIO, Inc., it might be more than you think! One of the world’s largest sellers of “smart” televisions has recently paid a $2.2 million settlement following charges by the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General that it was unlawfully tracking and selling 11 million consumers’ viewing data. The resulting court order has important repercussions for both consumers and smart TV producers. Continue Reading Who is Watching you Watch TV? If You Have VIZIO … Your TV Might Be Watching You
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has filed a lawsuit against device manufacturer D-Link for allegedly deceiving the marketplace about the security of its products and, in turn, unfairly placing customer privacy at risk.
Taiwan-based manufacturers D-Link Corporation and D-Link Systems, Inc. (collectively, “D-Link”) design a variety of home network devices, such as routers, IP cameras, and baby monitors. Devices such as these are susceptible to hacking when they are connected to each other and to the internet (in what is often referred to as the “Internet of Things” or “IoT”), and weak security measures therefore pose a significant security concern. Judging from D-Link’s advertisements for its products, the company is certainly aware of these risks. D-Link boasted that its routers are safe locked from hackers thanks to “Advanced Network Security,” its baby monitors and cameras assure a “Secure Connection” to protect the livestream view of a sleeping child, and promises of an “easy” and “safe” network appear repeatedly during the set up process for a D-Link device with an online interface. As the FTC explains in its lawsuit, claims like those made by D-Link are not only misleading but also dangerous.
Despite an apparent awareness of consumers’ cybersecurity concerns, the FTC alleges that D-Link neglected to build common security measures into the devices it sells. The allegations are startling: mobile app credentials were stored unsecured in plain text on consumer devices; a private company key code was accidentally made viewable online for six months; hard-coded login credentials in camera software left video feeds vulnerable to unauthorized viewers. And that’s just the beginning. More details are listed in the FTC’s complaint filed in a U.S. District Court in California on January 5, 2017. These lapses, and D-Link’s deceptive advertising, prompted the FTC to charge the company with a violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. §45.
As of January 10th, D-Link has denied the allegations outlined in the complaint and has retained the Cause of Action Institute as counsel to defend against the action.
The growing IoT problem
In recent years, the FTC has tried to keep pace with mounting concerns over the IoT industry by filing a handful of complaints focused on consumer protection. For example, it went after the company TRENDnet after the firm’s faulty software allowed hundreds of personal security cameras to be hacked. It also filed an action against computer parts manufacturer ASUS after its cloud services were compromised and the personal information of thousands of consumers was posted online. These isolated mistakes add up; when millions of unsecured and seemingly innocuous Wi-Fi-enabled devices join the global network, they can serve as a massive launchpad for crippling cyber-attacks like the one that overwhelmed internet traffic operator Dyn and shut down several major websites in October 2016. The efforts of the FTC are aimed at mitigating such attacks and encouraging technology developers to invest effort and resources in order to secure their IoT devices before they hit the marketplace.
Search for solutions
Both the FTC and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have released reports offering guidelines and technical standards for building reliable security into the framework of new systems and devices. As we wrote about recently, the Obama administration had also left the Trump administration an extensive report on cybersecurity recommendations. Achieving these standards will require a combination of regular agency enforcement and greater market demand for safe, secure devices. In the meantime, some digital vigilantes are working to stop cyber-attacks before they start. Netgear, for instance, has launched a “bug bounty program” offering cash rewards of $150-$15,000 for eager hackers to track and report security gaps in its devices, applications, and APIS. Indeed, incentivizing solutions rather than quietly overlooking mistakes, and searching for loopholes in our laws, will make a substantial difference in safeguarding the IoT landscape.