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Groupon updates rules on mobile tracking, data sharing

Group coupon-buying start-up announces privacy rule changes about the way it collects location data from mobile devices and how it shares personal information on its users.

Groupon sent out e-mails to its users this weekend about changes it has made to its privacy statement and terms of use.

Among the most notable changes is more information about the Chicago-based social buying start-up's collection and use of mobile location information.

Said Groupon:

Terms of service agreements
(Click for larger version) AllThingsD

"In short, if you use a Groupon mobile app and you allow sharing through your device, Groupon may collect geo-location information from the device and use it for marketing deals to you (and for other purposes listed in the "How Groupon Uses Personal Information" section of the Updated Privacy Statement)."

In other words, if you let them, in order to improve the experience and make the Groupon Now app more useful, you're being tracked.

This, of course, has been a dicey issue of late, most recently related to Apple and Google smartphones and what information they collect and retain. And with a pending IPO, Groupon is under all kinds of scrutiny, and any big changes will be closely studied.

In addition, in its e-mail to customers (see below in its entirety), the company said that it had broadened the definition of personal information to include your interests and habits and also that it may share that personal information with partners in new offering areas, such as travel deals with Expedia.

Groupon said it was also trying to improve readability of its consumer information and give greater transparency to its customers.

Here is the whole Groupon memo about the changes:

Wondering about Changes to the Groupon Privacy Statement?

We want to tell you a little more about some material changes we just made to the July 22, 2010 version of the Groupon Privacy Statement (the "Old Privacy Statement") to create the new Groupon Privacy Statement (the "Updated Privacy Statement").

In general, all of the changes to the Updated Privacy Statement were made to improve readability, provide greater transparency about our information handling practices, address some new types of relationships Groupon is forging and new technologies Groupon is using or may use, and to let you know about the privacy choices you have. Read on.

* Groupon continues to be a proud member of the TRUSTe Privacy Program. The Updated Privacy Statement contains a reference to the most current version of the TRUSTe Program Rules and includes some additional statements required by those Program Rules. As a TRUSTe Privacy Seal holder, Groupon is committed to complying with the Program Rules as applicable to its online privacy program.

* The Updated Privacy Statement replaces the phrase "Personally Identifiable Information" with "Personal Information" to improve readability and accuracy. (More on this below.)

* The Updated Privacy Statement clarifies that Personal Information is any information that could be used to identify, locate or contact an individual. This definition is broader than the definition in the Old Privacy Statement, which limited the concept of personally identifiable information to identification information in the context of certain defined identification activities. (Whew!) The broader definition in the Updated Privacy Statement reflects our dedication to protecting privacy in all areas of our business.

* The Updated Privacy Statement includes a definition of Personal Information and explains the types of Personal Information collected, used and disclosed by Groupon, namely "Contact Information," "Relationship Information," "Transaction Information," "Financial Account Information," and "Mobile Location Information." These definitions provide more meaningful definition about the types of information we collect and how we classify information internally.

* The Updated Privacy Statement has shortened the section that goes on about how we use and disclose non-identifiable information. This change was made to improve readability so we could focus more on talking about what we do with Personal Information.

* The Updated Privacy Statement contains information on Groupon's collection and use of Mobile Location Information. In short, if you use a Groupon mobile app and you allow sharing through your device, Groupon may collect geo-location information from the device and use it for marketing deals to you (and for other purposes listed in the "How Groupon Uses Personal Information" section of the Updated Privacy Statement).

* The Updated Privacy Statement presents Groupon's disclosures of Personal Information in a more detailed and transparent fashion. The new "When and Why Groupon Discloses Personal Information" section of the Updated Privacy Statement details the circumstances when Personal Information is shared with third parties in a comprehensive, bulleted-list format. This section reinforces Groupon's commitment to protect privacy by generally limiting disclosures of Personal Information to our affiliates and services providers and to those merchants and business partners with whom our users interact.

* The Updated Privacy Statement omits the section in the Old Privacy Statement regarding disclosures of Personal Information to Google for remarketing purposes. Groupon does not provide Personal Information to Google for remarketing.

The Old Privacy Statement's section on "Data Tracking" has been replaced with an expanded section on "Cookies and Related Technologies" to provide greater transparency around data collection technologies. This section contains information about all of the ways that we collect information using automated technologies, including cookies, pixel tags, web beacons, browser analysis tools, and web logs. The section is designed to educate readers about the types of data collected by each technology as well as how the data is used by Groupon. The Updated Privacy Statement clarifies that if automatically-collected data is associated with Personal Information, it is protected by the Updated Privacy Statement. This section also provides information about third party advertising relationships in a more readable form and includes a new paragraph regarding our relationship with Omniture.

* The Updated Privacy Statement contains an expanded section on user choice. The "Your Choices" section in the Updated Privacy Statement provides readers with information on many different types of privacy choices that they can make, along with instructions for exercising the choice. This section also consolidates information on choices that was distributed throughout the Old Privacy Statement and contains a new link to the TRUSTe preferences page.

* The Updated Privacy Statement's section on "Security of Personal Information" has been streamlined to more-simply state our commitment to maintaining a reasonable information security program with expected administrative, technical and physical controls.

* The Old Privacy Statement's section "Updating and Correcting Personal Information" has been replaced with a new section "Accessing and Correcting Personal Information." This section has been revised to improve readability and clarify the processes by which users can access, update and delete their Personal Information. This section of the Updated Privacy Statement also contains a new paragraph regarding data retention. This paragraph was added for clarity and to comply with the TRUSTe Program Rules.

* The Updated Privacy Statement contains a new section giving "Notice to Residents of Countries Outside of the United States of America." This section educates international users about the fact that Groupon is based in the U.S. so Personal Information may be transferred to the U.S. for processing.

* The "Miscellaneous Privacy Issues" section in the Old Privacy Statement has been deleted and the content it contains has been included in more appropriate, descriptive sections elsewhere in the policy. Also, we omitted the section discussing children's information because Groupon is not designed for children and the Groupon deals are not offered to individuals under the age of majority in their states of residence. See our Terms of Use.

* The Updated Privacy Statement introduces a new contact mechanism for privacy-related inquiries: While general customer service questions should still be directed to, the new address provides a way for us to respond to questions that our users have specifically about the privacy of their Personal Information.

And here is the e-mail sent to users, titled "Updates to Privacy Statement and Terms of Use":

We wanted to let you know that we've updated both our Privacy Statement and our Terms of Use. These new terms, which affect all Groupon users, accommodate our new products and services that allow us to offer you more relevant deals.

If you don't feel like wading through long legal documents, here's a summary of the notable changes, in plain English:

We've clarified that Groupon Now! and our other mobile apps may collect geo-location data. This lets us present you offers that are close by. See Sections 1 and 5 of the Privacy Statement.

We've broadened the definition of "personal information" to include your interests and habits, and provided additional details about how we collect and use your information. We've done this so that we can better understand what types of offers you'll find valuable. See Section 1 of the Privacy Statement.

You may know that we've started working with partners to offer Groupon users new deal categories -- for example, travel deals with Expedia. Our new privacy statement explains that we may share your personal information with these partners if you subscribe to special communications or buy deals in these new deal categories. See Section 4 of the Privacy Statement.

We've updated our Terms of Use to help you understand the expiration policies for different vouchers, including Groupon NOW! vouchers. This explains, for example, that if you don't use a Groupon NOW! voucher within 30 days we'll refund the purchase amount. See Section 7 of the Terms of Use.

We also clarified our expectations to ensure that our customers and visitors use the services on our website in a way that keeps the experience good for everyone. For example, we've prohibited abusive practices like opening multiple accounts, submitting false information and other practices that we think detract from everyone's experience with us. See Section 5 of the Terms of Use.

Related stories
• Groupon files its IPO papers
• Google sued over Android data location collection
• Apple sued over location tracking in iOS