What Rules Apply to Operators of Mobile Apps that Use Geolocation Tracking Software?

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 9.41.09 AMGeolocation services are increasingly becoming a key feature of mobile apps, but few app developers and operators are familiar with the statutes, rules, and regulations that apply to their use.  If you’re developing or operating a mobile app, this article provides a brief summary of these rules.

Consent:  First and foremost, to utilize geolocation tracking in your mobile app, you must obtain the express consent of the end-user prior to tracking their location.  The requisite consent should be obtained by requiring the user to undertake an affirmative action, such as checking a box that appears next to the consent language.   In addition, the app’s Privacy Policy should detail how users may revoke any previously granted consent.

The specific means for obtaining consumer consent will necessarily vary depending on the an app’s functions and features.   If the location-based service is ancillary to the app’s functionality and not an obvious feature of the App, you should consider obtaining consent via a separate checkbox.   Under this scenario, simply requiring the user to agree to a Terms of Use/EULA or Privacy Policy may not be sufficient.

In contrast, an app that employs geolocation tracking that is integral to its functioning and necessary to provide whatever benefit it confers will not require a separate consent to employ the tracking feature, because it is obvious to the user.  A checkbox requiring the user to agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy should be enough to obtain the requisite consent.

For example, if the purpose of your app is to scan documents, it is highly unlikely that your users will be aware of the fact that it utilizes location-based software, so you must inform them that it does and obtain their consent.  However, if you have an activity tracking app, your users will know that it tracks their location because that is integral to the app’s purpose.  The user should be required to consent to your app’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use, which should describe your use of geolocation software.

Description:  The app’s Privacy Policy should contain disclosures regarding the types of geolocation information collected, how that information is used, and describe any third parties with which that information may be shared. This information should only be retained for as long as necessary to deliver the applicable location-based service associated with the app.

Security.  Mobile app operators that collect geolocation information must employ reasonable security protocols sufficient to protect such end-user information from unauthorized access, alteration, destruction, use or disclosure.

Given the sensitive nature of the privacy concerns associated with tracking end-users’ locations, your should speak with an experienced attorney to ensure that your use of geolocation software is compliant in all respects.

You are welcome to contact the Business Law Center for more information.

 

 

Seth Heyman
Seth D. Heyman is a California attorney with extensive experience in advertising and marketing law, corporate law, contracts, governmental regulations, international business, and Internet law. He has counseled numerous successful companies, both public and private, and was responsible for regulatory compliance, contract management, corporate governance, and HR best practices for multiple organizations in many diverse industries, including marketing, telecommunications, energy, and technology development. He offers insight and guidance on federal and state direct mail, TV, radio, telemarketing, and Internet marketing laws, as well as online promotions, Internet privacy, data protection regulations, and similar matters.