The FTC recently settled with Vulcan, an app maker operated by General Workings, Inc., following charges that it violated privacy laws by installing numerous apps on Android users’ phones without their consent. In the complaint, the FTC alleges that Vulcan used a browser extension it had purchased to install apps without users’ knowledge, “bombarded” them with unsolicited advertisements, opened pop-up windows, and reset home pages without authorization.
The complaint details a scheme in which Vulcan purchased a Chrome browser extension game called Running Fred, replaced it with another program without notifying users, and had the new program install applications without consent, giving Vulcan access to sensitive information on users’ phones and allegedly putting their privacy at risk. As part of the settlement, Vulcan agreed to stop forced downloads and will be required to tell consumers about the types of information the apps will collect, how that information will be used, and display built-in permission notices as part of the download process.
TIP: This case is a reminder that the FTC is actively pursuing companies that it believes are not providing sufficient disclosures or obtaining appropriate consent when downloading software onto users’ devices and collecting personal information from those users.