The holiday break ended early for lawyers representing Apple, Pandora, Weather Channel, and other app developers, with the filing of a class-action lawsuit accusing them of gathering detailed personal information about iPhone and iPad app users.
The class action lawsuit, filed by Jonathan Lalo of Los Angeles County on December 23 and first reported by Bloomberg, claims that some prominent app developers –with Apple’s help — allowed advertisers and ad networks to collect personal data about individual users including not only the applications they have installed and how often they use them, but also (somehow) their political views and sexual orientation:
“Some apps are also selling additional information to ad networks, including users’ location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political views.”
Pandora spokeswoman Cristin Zweig had no comment when reached by Evolver.fm. Apple spokeswoman Amy Bessette did not respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment.
It’s unclear how an app like Pandora could ascertain a user’s sexual preferences or political views, although we suppose certain inferences could be made. Deeply religious conservatives are not likely to be huge fans of death metal, one could argue. In the case of other apps named (Dictonary.com, Weather Channel, Paper Toss, and others), such assumptions might be easier to make.
Some anonymous profiling of mobile app users seems to be considered acceptable by users, and by Apple. Apple, which apparently would have participated in these alleged privacy infractions through its iAd in-app advertising platform, has so far grappled with the thorny issue of location-aware advertising by allowing any app whose location-aware features are “beneficial” to users to target those users with ads that are likewise based on their locations.
ITunes’ policy also forbids the collection (let alone sale) of user information without express permission from those users.
However, the suit claims, any transmission of personal information violates federal computer and privacy laws regardless of whether a user has given permission for that data to be collected.
Plaintiff Lalo seeks class-action status for his lawsuit (Lalo v. Apple, 10-5878, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in San Jose), which if granted, would cover everyone who installed an app on an iPhone or iPad between December 21, 2008 and last Thursday, when the suit was filed.
In a related case, a woman sued Netflix last December for revealing that she had rented Brokeback Mountain.