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Apple hit with another suit alleging privacy violations

The class-action suit says that Apple allows for the tracking of iPhone and iPad users' browsing habits, without user consent

By Nancy Gohring, IDG News Service
January 31, 2011 09:09 PM ET

IDG News Service - Apple has been hit with another lawsuit accusing it of privacy violations for the way it shares information collected from iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users with advertisers.

The suit was filed last Thursday on behalf of an Apple user in California and seeks class-action status. It charges Apple with sharing information about users' browsing history, application use and other personal details without their consent.

"Apple's privacy policy is opaque and confusing but one thing is clear: it does not inform mobile device users that by providing application developers with their UDID, Apple enables them to put a name to highly personal and in many cases embarrassing information derived from app downloading activity and usage, and internet browsing history, that would otherwise be anonymous," the suit reads.

Apple gives each of its mobile devices a Unique Device Identifier, or UDID. Application developers have access to that number, which offers information about a user's browsing history every time the user clicks on an ad or an application, according to the suit. Developers sometimes sell the data to tracking companies, the suit alleges.

The suit cites a Wall Street Journal article from December that says developers can combine the UDID with other personal information found on the device including user name and password, contacts, current location, and in some cases the phone owner's name.

It also cites a study by the director of information security and networking at Bucknell University, which found that many applications collect the UDID number and user login data that ties to a user account. He also found that many apps transmit the UDID back to a server owned by the app developer or an advertising partner. The suit claims that "such entities inherently have the ability to tie a UDID to a real-world identity," although it doesn't describe why they inherently have that ability.

Apple didn't reply to a request for comment Monday. In December it told the Journal that iPhone apps are not supposed to transmit data about a user without the user's prior permission and explaining how the data will be used.

The suit notes that Apple's privacy policy says that personal information will be shared by Apple to improve services and advertising but that it won't be shared with third parties for their marketing purposes.

Filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, the suit asks for a jury trial and for compensatory and punitive damages related to 10 charges. The charges range from invasion of privacy to violations of the Stored Communications Act.

The plaintiff wants the class to include all Apple customers in the U.S. who have downloaded and used apps on the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch after July 10, 2008.

It's not the first suit of its kind. Another was filed against Apple last year, also in California.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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