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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FTC bans defendants from surveillance business

Federal Issues FTC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Enforcement Settlement FTC Act UDAP

Federal Issues

On September 1, the FTC announced that a data monitoring application and its CEO (collectively, “defendants”) will be permanently banned from the surveillance industry for failing to provide reasonable data security for consumers’ personal information by allegedly “secretly harvesting and sharing data on people’s live location, web use, and online activities through their product’s hidden device hack.” The defendants allegedly sold real-time access to their surveillance system, which allowed stalkers and domestic abusers to “stealthily track” unknowing victims.

According to the complaint, the defendants violated Section 5 of the FTC Act by committing unfair or deceptive business practices in using unauthorized personal information and failing to secure such data in which “victims continue to experience substantial harm, including injury in the form of depression, anxiety, and ongoing fear for one’s safety,” even after the stalking or domestic abuse ended. The complaint detailed the covert monitoring products and services offered by defendants once their application is installed, including capturing and logging: email, SMS messages, call history, GPS location and live location, web history, contacts, pictures, calendar, video chats, files downloaded on the device, notifications, among other functions depending on cost.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the defendants are: (i) banned from offering, promoting, selling, or advertising any surveillance app, service, or business; (ii) required to delete any information illegally collected from their apps; and (iii) required to notify owners of devices that their devices might have been monitored and the devices may not be secure. This is the agency’s second case “brought against stalkerware apps, and the first where the FTC is obtaining a ban.” According to a statement released by FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, the agency is also “seeking public comment on banning [the defendants] from licensing, marketing, or offering for sale surveillance products,” which is “a significant change from the agency’s past approach.”

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