Has your cell phone fallen for a smooth operator?

When you adjust the settings on your mobile device to keep your location private, you expect your location will be private. Right? Maybe not. An FTC case announced today alleges a mobile advertising company secretly tracked people through their devices, regardless of their privacy settings.

The FTC says InMobi tracked people using information from the Wi-Fi networks connected to or near their devices. Why? So it could send them location-based advertising — ads that display on a mobile app when the user’s location suggests they’re likely to buy, such as when they’re inside an advertiser’s store.

InMobi gave app developers software to display the ads in their mobile apps. The problem? The FTC says InMobi didn’t clearly tell the developers the software would track location even if someone didn’t consent to being tracked and had set a device to deny access to its location information.

The FTC says the deception prevented developers from accurately telling people the information their apps would collect, which ultimately prevented people from being able to choose to only install apps that would respect their privacy preferences.

InMobi’s network reaches more than a billion devices worldwide through thousands of popular apps, including children’s apps. The case is the FTC’s first charging a mobile ad company with deception and with violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires online services to get a parent’s consent before collecting information from children.

The settlement requires InMobi to destroy location information it collected without consent, and respect people’s privacy settings. It also includes a $4 million civil penalty. InMobi must pay $950,000, and the rest will be suspended based on InMobi’s financial condition.

The law requires that companies tell the truth about the personal information an app will collect. The FTC has information about using privacy settings and guidance to help businesses comply with the law.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.