“When the cat’s away, the mice will play” — this could be the phrase used to describe the current state of the corporate giant Apple since their CEO Steve Jobs took a leave of absence on January 17th. While the news that Apple is facing a lawsuit is not new, it is still unclear whether or not the company will prevail against the firm that claims Apple allowed applications on their iPhone and iPad to transmit their personal information without their consent.
This legal complaint is not only targeted at Apple but also five additional companies that sell these apps, such as Google and their Android-backed smartphones. The plaintiffs claim that certain apps allowed by Apple are taking their personal information and then selling it to ad networks. This information consists of their age and income, as well as further information such as their ethnicity, political stance, gender and sexual preference.
Since these apps are downloaded by thousands of people, there may be some who are victims of the application and not even know it. One identifying factor in the case is the issue that Apple allows advertising networks to track the applications that users download by using a 40-character string called a Unique Device Identifier. Once a user downloads the app, the ad network can follow the user and track how many times and for how long they use the application. Since this string is embedded into each iPhone and iPad, users cannot block nor prevent the apps from transmitting data.
It is still unclear as to how much data has been leaked by these applications, but the lawsuit claims that it violates a user’s right to privacy. The group responsible for the lawsuit hints that Apple allowed the apps into the store even though they knew they breached privacy rules. Apple responded by saying that an app cannot transmit data without first being given permission by the user.
In other words, the user is targeted and followed based on their online interactions. Similar to the way that Google tracks history online and delivers ads based on a user’s previous search interests, Apple will do the same on its iPhone and iPad. Even though users can opt out of the iAd service, there’s a catch:
“If you do not want to receive ads with this level of relevance on your mobile device, you can opt out by accessing the following link on your device: http://oo.apple.com.”
It almost seems like the user is given a choice until they continue reading:
“If you opt out, you will continue to receive the same number of mobile ads, but they may be less relevant because they will not be based on your interests. You may still see ads related to the content on a web page or in an application or based on other non-personal information. This opt-out applies only to Apple advertising services and does not affect interest-based advertising from other advertising networks.”
Apple insists that the apps are reviewed before being accepted into the app store and will not allow apps that transmit data without a user’s permission. Some apps that have been revealed as defendants alongside Apple are Dictionary.com, Weather Channel and Pandora.
While the class-action lawsuit claims that Apple has violated “federal computer fraud and privacy laws,” there has yet to be evidence that proves that Apple has any involvement in the allegations brought against them. If a user doesn’t read the installation agreement of an app, then they may be giving the app permission to transmit data.
By Aaron Kelly