updated 02:15 pm EDT, Sun March 18, 2012
Apple, Path, Facebook, others in lawsuit sights
A new lawsuit (below) filed last week and uncovered on Friday by CNET could try and take Apple and key iOS app writers to task for alleged unapproved contact access. The potential class action case accuses those who've admitted to any access, such as Path, Twitter, and Instagram, of violating privacy by becoming "mobile radio beacons" that were "broadcasting and publicly exposing" contact lists to everyone. Questionably, however, it also names the developers of numerous other unverified apps of doing the same thing, including Beluga, Burbn, Chillingo, EA, Facebook, Foursquare, Foodspotting, Hipster, Gowalla, Kik, LinkedIn, Rovio (Angry Birds), and ZeptoLab (Cut the Rope).
The 13 named plaintiffs in the Austin-based complaint insist that "billions" of address entries from "tens of millions" of device users have been taken. Among the violations would include the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Texas' Wiretapping Act.
They hoped to both get a ban on the practices as well as tripled damages for allegedly willful violations.
A strong chance exists that the lawsuit will be partly or completely rejected. Apart from a lack of evidence, the claims of mass theft and public access to contacts aren't supported by the very nature of certain apps. Game developers like Rovio and ZeptoLab, for example, rarely if ever ask for contact information. The lawsuit also tries to single out apps and companies that have ceased to exist: Burbn was shuttered two years ago in favor of Instagram, while Beluga and Gowalla have been bought by Facebook.
LinkedIn has denied ever taking contact information.
Regardless of any sincerity, such lawsuits aren't uncommon in the wake of technology company scandals such as AT&T's post-iPhone 3G slowdown. They often stem from law firms hoping to use the media attention or the company's worries about its image to get a payout that would otherwise be harder to obtain. Legal firms often focus on getting as many larger companies as possible into a given case to maximize the damages, even if some or most of the defendants are dismissed.