Apple forced to defend its tracking actions

A US judge has told Jobs’ Mob, or Apple as it is known in the vulgate,  that it has to defend itself against a lawsuit accusing it of letting advertisers secretly track the activity of millions of mobile device users.

Google AdMarval, Admob, Flurry and Medialets were also named in the case, but the US District Judge Lucy Koh said that there was no case for them to answer.

Under the ruling, owners of iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches may pursue claims against Apple under two California consumer protection laws.

Koh threw out claims that Apple violated customers’ privacy rights, and killed off allegations that Jobs’ Mob had carried out computer fraud, wiretaps, and records disclosure.

The case was the result of research in April 2011 from two insecurity experts which showed that iPhone users’ movements were being monitored through their devices.

Steve Jobs denied that Apple ever tracked or would ever track customer movements.

But in the 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.

All this was done without asking the users and was “inconsistent with Apple’s proclaiming in writing that it would take steps to safeguard personal information against misuse.”

Data harvested by Apple included addresses, genders, ages, identifiers assigned to devices, and functions performed on particular apps. Some iPhone users said that Apple collected data about their precise whereabouts at a given moment.

Judge Koh allowed plaintiffs to hunt claims that Apple caused them to overpay for their devices, which is a veritable can of worms for Apple.

Apple claimed that user agreements shielded it from liability. Apparently users signed their souls away when they bought Apple gear, so the company did not have to be reasonable to them. However, Koh said there was “some ambiguity” as to whether all the information that was collected was permitted.

In dismissing the allegation of anti-constitutional behavour against Jobs’ Mob, Koh said the supposed invasion in this case was not an “egregious breach of social norms” and might even be deemed “routine commercial behaviour.”

Koh had already dismissed an earlier version of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit but gave the plaintiffs a chance to have another crack at it.