The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that mobile advertising giant InMobi will pay $950K to settle charges that it tracked "hundreds of millions" of people around the world.
The US trade body agreed to the fine as part of a settlement deal that will also include InMobi deleting any information it collected on children, and promising to no longer geolocate devices without users' permission.
The FTC charged that InMobi had gathered the geolocation information on mobile device users without their knowledge or permission, and then used that information to serve up geographically targeted information.
The InMobi ad service allows mobile app developers to link up their software with its ad network via an SDK. InMobi then serves up its ads as in-app content and gives the developer a cut of the revenue.
According to the FTC [PDF], InMobi tracked user locations via the SDK using WiFi hotspot data. This practice was carried out even if the app had not asked for or been granted permission by the user.
In addition to acting without user notification, the FTC accused InMobi of violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act when those tracking activities were performed on phones being used by minors.
"InMobi tracked the locations of hundreds of millions of consumers, including children, without their consent, in many cases totally ignoring consumers' express privacy preferences," said FTC consumer protection bureau director Jessica Rich.
"This settlement ensures that InMobi will honor consumers' privacy choices in the future, and will be held accountable for keeping their privacy promises."
Under the terms of the settlement, InMobi will pay $950K in civil penalties, but will also have a $4m civil penalty hanging over its head should it not follow the terms of the settlement, which requires:
- Asking for explicit permission from the user
- Making sure its SDK observes the host app's permission settings
- Not collecting the locational data on children
As part of the settlement, InMobi will be forced to undergo audits every other year for the next 20 years to ensure that it is upholding its end of the bargain. ®