05.04.2015 FTC Continues its Push to Regulate the Collection and Use of Location Information
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it had settled charges with Nomi Technologies, Inc. regarding its collection and use of information that could be used to track the movements of individuals through their mobile devices. Nomi offers an analytics service in connection with which Nomi deployed sensors at brick and mortar retailers to collect the media access control (MAC) address of shoppers’ mobile devices. A MAC address is a 12-digit identifier that is unique to a particular device. Nomi took steps to obfuscate the MAC address itself, but in the process created a unique device identifier for that mobile device. Nomi used this information to collect traffic patterns of customers and passers-by and related information at the stores.
It is also noteworthy that the FTC did not discuss the precision of the geolocation information (i.e. one foot, one yard, etc.) or the frequency with which the geolocation information was collected. Without further clarification from the FTC, a growing number of companies that are collecting and using sensor data could be considered, directly or indirectly, to be tracking the movements of individuals. Many of these companies probably do not even consider themselves in the “tracking” business. However, until the FTC provides further guidance, these companies should make sure that their privacy policies are up-to-date and that they are complying with all of the relevant terms. In addition, these companies should require any third party data suppliers to provide adequate notice of collection to consumers.