By UpCounsel Attorney Seth Heyman

Geolocation 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 the related rules.

User consent is required. 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. 

You must obtain the express consent of the end-user before tracking their location  

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, End User License Agreement 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. You should require that users consent to your app’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use, which should describe your use of geolocation software.

An activity tracking app does not require a separate consent, because the location tracking is obvious

Disclose the app’s location tracking software in your Privacy Policy. 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.

Protect your users’ information with sophisticated security protocols. 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, you should speak with an experienced attorney to ensure that your use of geolocation software is compliant in all respects.

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About the author

Seth Heyman

Seth Heyman

For the past 20 years, Seth has represented businesses on matters ranging from entity formation and contract management to advertising law, regulatory law, global operations and Internet law. He has served as in-house counsel for companies, both public and private, where he was responsible for regulatory compliance, contract management, corporate governance and HR best practices.

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