FTC: Frostwire P-to-P software shared personal info from smartphones

The company settled FTC complaint after the agency said the software shares pictures and other documents by default

Peer-to-peer software developer Frostwire has agreed to settle U.S. Federal Trade Commission charges that its software would likely cause users to unknowingly share sensitive personal files, including pictures, from their Android devices, the FTC said Tuesday.

Frostwire for Android's default settings caused users to share their pictures, videos, documents and other files with other users of the Gnutella P-to-P network, the FTC said in a press release. Once installed, Frostwire allowed potentially millions of people to copy files from a user's smartphone with little notice, the agency said.

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Frostwire's default settings were "extremely difficult to change," Jon Leibowitz, the FTC's chairman, said during a privacy conference Tuesday.

The FTC also charged Frostwire with misleading consumers about what files from their PCs would be shared with the file-sharing network. Frostwire offers a PC version of its software as well as an Android version.

The FTC filed a complaint against Frostwire (PDF) and manager Angel Leon in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Friday. The agency accused Frostwire of unfair and deceptive business practices.

Under the settlement with the FTC, Frostwire is barred from using default settings that share users' files and is required to provide free upgrades to correct the unintended sharing, the agency said. The settlement also prohibits the company from misrepresenting what files its applications will share.

Attempts to contact Frostwire for comment were unsuccessful. There's no contact information for the company on Frostwire.com, and its website is registered anonymously.

Frostwire for Android, available for about a year, included a file-sharing screen as part of its multi-screen installation process, the FTC said in its complaint. The screen asked users what kinds of files they wanted to share. All types of files were checked by default, including pictures, video, documents, applications, ringtones and music.

If Frostwire users did not uncheck the boxes during installation, they had to go through files one by one if they wanted to share some files, but not all of them, the FTC said.

"Thus, for example, a consumer with 200 photos on her mobile device who installed the application with the intent of sharing only ten of those photos first had to designate all 200 photos in the 'Picture' category as shared, and then affirmatively unshare each of the 190 photos that she wished to keep private," FTC lawyers wrote in their complaint. "She also needed to remember, when next running the application, to unshare the category or individually unshare any new photos she might have taken in the meantime in order to keep the new photos private."

The Frostwire interface or set-up process did not tell users how the software shared files by default, the FTC said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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