Skip to main content

Staff members hang privacy drapes in the window during a temporary closure of the Apple shop in Boston, Massachusetts October 19, 2011.

BRIAN SNYDER/Brian Snyder/Reuters

Apple Inc. must defend against a lawsuit accusing it of letting advertisers secretly track the activity of millions of mobile device users, a federal judge ruled, but Google Inc and several other defendants were dismissed from the case.

Owners of iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches may pursue claims against Apple under two California consumer protection laws, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, said in a decision late Tuesday. Judge Koh oversees nationwide litigation combining 19 lawsuits.

But the judge threw out claims that Apple violated customers' privacy rights, and also threw out claims under federal laws addressing computer fraud, wiretaps, and records disclosure.

Story continues below advertisement

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Other defendants dismissed from the case include AdMarval Inc., Admob Inc., Flurry Inc. and Medialets Inc.

The lawsuit followed an April 2011 presentation from two computer programmers whose research showed that iPhone users' movements were being monitored through their devices.

That provoked a firestorm in which regulators demanded changes, which Apple promised to make. Steve Jobs denied in multiple interviews at the time that the company he co-founded ever tracked or would ever track customer movements.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs said Apple designed its devices to let mobile advertising and analytics companies, such as Google and its co-defendants, collect personal data when free apps are downloaded, including from Apple's website.

They said this was done without permission, and inconsistent with Apple's proclaiming in writing that it would take steps to safeguard personal information against misuse.

Among the data gathered were addresses, genders, ages, identifiers assigned to devices and functions performed on particular apps. Some device owners said that Apple collected data about their precise whereabouts at a given moment.

Story continues below advertisement

Judge Koh said the plaintiffs may pursue claims that Apple caused them to overpay for their devices.

She said this was based on the company's statements concerning privacy protection, and the consumption through the defendants' actions of finite bandwidth and storage space.

While Apple claimed that user agreements shielded it from liability, Judge Koh said there was "some ambiguity" as to whether all the information that was collected was permitted.

But in striking down the privacy claims under California's state constitution, Judge Koh said the supposed invasion in this case was not an "egregious breach of social norms" and might even be deemed "routine commercial behaviour."

Judge Koh had dismissed an earlier version of the plaintiffs' lawsuit in September 2011, but gave the plaintiffs a chance to try again. Tuesday's decision is based on an amended complaint.

Apple is based in Cupertino, California, and Google in Mountain View, California.

Story continues below advertisement

The case is In re: iPhone Application Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 11-02250.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter