Apple is the latest brand to get hit with privacy complaints -- and a lawsuit. The iPhone and iPad maker has been accused of letting apps transmit users' personal information to advertising networks without permission.
The complaint was filed Dec. 23 in a San Jose, Calif. federal court and the plaintiff attorneys are seeking class-action status. The suit alleges that Apple's iPhones and iPads contain identifiers that make it possible for advertising networks to not only track what apps users download, but also how frequently they are used and for how long.
"Some apps are also selling additional information to ad networks, including users' location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political views," the suit said.
App Makers Also Targeted
The suit was filed on behalf of Jonathan Lalo of Los Angeles County. The complaint names apps, including Paper Toss, Dictionary.com, the Weather Channel, and Pandora, as defendants alongside Apple. Scott A. Kamber and Avi Kreitenberg of KamberLaw in New York is representing Lalo.
The complaint outlines the use of a Unique Device Identification, also called a UDID, on iPhones and iPads. According to the complaint, users cannot block the UDID. The complaint also spells out Apple's claim that the company reviews all apps in its App Store and forbids app makers from transmitting data without express permission from customers.
Finally, the lawsuit claims that such transmissions are a violation of federal computer fraud and privacy laws. Attorneys, therefore, are vying for a class action that would include Apple customers who downloaded an app on their devices between Dec. 1, 2008, and last week.
2011: Year of Privacy?
These suits, as well as other activity at the Federal Trade Commission and in Congress, suggest 2011 may become "the year of privacy" and we may see a lot more litigation around the issue. Certainly the lawyers smell an opportunity, according to Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.
"Apple is being sued because of the UDID, the fact that every device can be uniquely identified, and because it approves all apps in the iTunes store. Apple has made a point of asserting that it gives users more control over things like location sharing with publishers; so these data-collection practices by the app developers fly in the face of Apple's statements," Sterling said.
"One of the questions going forward with online and mobile advertising and analytics will be: When are disclosures required and how prominent must they be?" he said. "Depending on what rules are imposed, marketers could face a lot of headaches and see a significant decline in the data they can collect and use."
Apple isn't alone. Facebook recently came under scrutiny when third-party application partners reportedly shared private information with advertisers. A Wall Street Journal investigation in October discovered that many of the most popular apps have been delivering personal identifying information -- including names, and sometimes friends' names -- to advertising and Internet tracking companies.