Apple Allowed Advertisers Access to iPhone, iPad Owners' Data: Report

 
 
By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2010-12-28
 
 
 

A seemingly indiscreet Apple is facing a pair of lawsuits that claim the company allowed advertisers to access the personal information of iPhone and iPad owners without their consent, according to a publish report. These legal actions could also pave the way for more complaints against other smartphone and application developers, such as Google.

A Dec. 23 complaint filed in a federal court in San Jose, Calif., by Los Angeles man Jonathan Lalo accuses Apple of allowing applications for the iPhone and iPad to share users personal information with advertisers, according to Business Week. The information is supplied by the devices Unique Device Identifier (UDID), which, as the name implies, is unique to each device and intended to supply information to AppStore developers. The lawsuit identifies applications such as Pandora, The Weather Channel and Dictionary.com and names them as defendants along with Apple.

Some apps are also selling additional information to ad networks, including users location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political views, states the suit, according to Business Week.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status for Apple customers who downloaded an application to their iPhone or iPad devices between Dec. 1, 2008 and mid-December 2010. The lawsuit has the potential to attract many people. Back in April 2009, Apple celebrated the download of its one-billionth app with a contest won by a 13 year old from Connecticut who was downloading Bump, the contact-swapping application. During its most recent revenue disclosure, Apple shared that during its fiscal 2010 fourth quarter alone, it sold 14.1 million iPhones and 4.2 million iPads.

The second lawsuit, Freeman vs. Apple, also filed in the Northern District of California, similarly focuses on Apples disclosure of users UDIDs.

"[T]he iPhone and iPad come equipped with the tools necessary to determine their geographic location. Thus, being able to identify a unique device, and combining that information with the devices geographic location, gives the advertiser a huge amount of information about the user of a mobile device, states the Freeman complaint," according to Forbes. "From the perspective of advertisers engaged in surreptitious tracking, this is a perfect means of tracking mobile device users interests and likes on the Internet."

Both lawsuits follow from a Dec. 18 report in the Wall Street Journal, in which reporters examined the behavior 101 popular smartphone apps. They found that 56 transmitted the phones UDID to companies without the users consent, 47 transmitted the phones location and five disclosed age, gender and other personal details. Pandora, for example, sent information to eight companies, seven of which received location information, three received the UDID and two received demographic data.

"We have created strong privacy protections for our customers, especially regarding location-based data," Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told the Journal. "Privacy and trust are vitally important."

It's believed that Google may eventually be served with similar papers, as, like Apple, it requires users to give applications access to their information. Unlike Apple, however, Google doesn't review all of the applications that it makes available.

According to the Journal, Google leaves it up to the application makers to bear the responsibility for how they handle user information. If users don't like what information an app wants access to, a Google spokesperson reportedly told the Journal, they can choose not to install the application.

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