On February 19, 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) hosted a seminar entitled, “Mobile Device Tracking,” as part of its Spring Privacy Series on emerging consumer privacy issues. The seminar included a panel of industry and consumer group experts on the emerging practice of device tracking. The panel covered the technical, legal, and policy challenges that will confront consumers and businesses in this new field.

After a presentation about the technology behind device tracking, questions about how retailers and marketers use the information gained from mobile devices were posed to the panel. The panel described various business and customer facing uses for the data, including faster checkout times, more efficient inventory management, and better theft prevention. The results of a recent study of consumer feelings toward sharing location data in exchange for deals or coupons was also released at the seminar, finding that 97 percent of Americans are willing to make such an exchange.

The seminar concluded with questions regarding the privacy implications of device tracking and the need for consumer notice.  A distinction was made between app specific information and location data gathered from a device’s antenna.   Panelists discussed how device tracking companies collect information from the antenna, and not specific information from device applications.  The panel cautioned against over-notification, and stressed the need to focus on the use of the collected data, not solely on how the data is collected.  The FTC is expected to continue to study this space.