The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has intensified its efforts to restrain mass data collectors and contain the widespread mishandling of consumers’ sensitive personal data, leading to proposed settlements with Avast, X-Mode, and InMarket.

In mid-February, the FTC announced a proposed settlement with Avast, a security software company, over allegations of unfairly selling consumers’ detailed browsing information.

Avast, known for its antivirus software, was accused of accumulating data through its software and browser extensions, contrary to its promises of protecting user privacy.

The FTC also revealed proposed settlements in January involving data aggregators X-Mode Social and InMarket, focusing on how these companies handled consumers’ location data.

X-Mode allegedly sold location data to private government contractors without consumer consent, while InMarket used location data to categorise users into specific audience segments for targeted advertising.

The FTC’s proposed complaints highlight the significant privacy threats posed by business models that monetise individuals’ personal information, particularly in the realms of browsing and location data. The data collected could reveal intimate details about a person’s life, including religious affiliations, health conditions, financial status, and sexual orientation.

X-Mode, according to the FTC, ingested over 10 billion location data points, advertising 70% accuracy within 20 meters or less.

InMarket, on the other hand, allegedly collected precise geolocation information from 100 million unique devices each year.

Avast, X-Mode, and InMarket are accused of misleading users and not providing adequate information about their data.

The proposed settlements require Avast to pay $16.5m, to be returned to affected consumers, and impose significant limits on how Avast, X-Mode, and InMarket handle browsing and location data.

An Avast spokesperson commented: “Avast has reached a settlement with the FTC to resolve its investigation of Avast’s past provision of customer data to its Jumpshot subsidiary that Avast voluntarily closed in January of 2020. We are committed to our mission of protecting and empowering people’s digital lives.”

The FTC contends that mass data collectors must align data handling with the purposes for which it was collected . The proposed orders underscore the importance of companies honouring privacy promises, implementing safeguards, and taking action to protect consumers’ sensitive information.

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