In late December 2010, consumers filed two class action lawsuits against Apple Inc., claiming that several applications they downloaded from Apple’s App Store sent their personal information to third parties without their consent. Specifically, the consumers claim that Apple allowed third party advertising networks to follow user activity through the Unique Device Identifiers that Apple assigns each device that downloads applications. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, also named several application developers such as Pandora and The Weather Channel as co-defendants.
In addition to alleged violations of California law, the class actions claim that Apple and the application developers violated both the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (by accessing the users’ iPhones or iPads without authorization), and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (by willfully intercepting the users’ communications). The law firm that filed the lawsuit has hinted at the possibility of future lawsuits against Google, whose Android Market is a competitor to Apple’s App Store.
The proliferation of smartphones and tablet computers has resulted in exponential growth in the number of applications downloaded on mobile devices, with some surveys estimating that the cumulative number of applications downloaded will pass 100 billion during the next few years. This growth has coincided with an increased focus by government regulators on the tracking of consumers’ online activity. In December, the Federal Trade Commission released a privacy report that recommended the development of a Do-Not Track mechanism and the House of Representatives held a hearing about Internet tracking of user activity. Also in December, Microsoft announced that it will include tracking protection in the latest version of Internet Explorer. While the technical details have yet to be worked out, a legally required do-not track mechanism could profoundly affect the development of the mobile application industry.