App Permissions & The Third-Party Doctrine

18 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2019 Last revised: 24 Mar 2020

See all articles by Michael Gentithes

Michael Gentithes

University of Akron School of Law; Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology; New York University School of Law; Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Date Written: September 19, 2019

Abstract

Apple’s trademarked catchphrase “there’s an app for that” suggests that every app on a modern digital device is perfectly tailored to provide a specific, necessary convenience. Whether the user wants to check the weather, get updates on her favorite baseball team, find a coupon for her next purchase, or track her fitness and activity levels, she can use an app to fill gaps in her life that she may not have known existed. What the user might also not know, however, is that “permissions” either she or the phone’s operating system have granted to the app allow it to access functions and information on her device entirely unrelated to the app’s apparently straightforward purpose. The app’s developers might then package and sell information collected through those permissions to commercial partners, or, as this Article considers, divulge it to government investigators. This essay addresses a looming technological challenge to the Court’s third-party doctrine: the permissions that app developers obtain on our digital devices. Such permissions — which are either granted by the user upon installation of the app or permitted by the operating system without any user input — entitle app developers to access and send data from the device, such as the user’s location services, motion sensors, contacts, calendars, social media accounts, camera, or microphone. Carpenter contracted the third-party doctrine when government investigators collect location information emitted by a citizen’s cell phone to connect with towers in the nearby area. This Article considers what that decision portends for information government investigators might collect from a citizen’s cell phone and the apps that make it both enormously convenient and potentially intrusive upon personal privacy.

Keywords: Fourth Amendment, Privacy, Third-Party Doctrine, Apps, Permissions

Suggested Citation

Gentithes, Michael, App Permissions & The Third-Party Doctrine (September 19, 2019). 59 Washburn L.J. 35 (2020), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3456696 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3456696

Michael Gentithes (Contact Author)

University of Akron School of Law ( email )

150 University Ave.
Akron, OH 44325-2901
United States

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E Pearson St.
Room 1041
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
26
Abstract Views
276
PlumX Metrics