Privacy Lawsuit Dismissed Against Apple, Mobile Ad Networks
A federal judge has ruled in favor of Apple and eight mobile ad companies in a privacy lawsuit by iPhone and iPad users who alleged that their devices were sharing personal information about them without their consent.
U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, Calif. threw out the case on the ground that the consumers didn't allege any tangible injuries from the alleged tracking. "This failure alone is sufficient reason to dismiss," Koh wrote.
The dismissal was without prejudice, which means that the consumers can attempt to beef up their complaint and try again. Scott Kamber, a lawyer for the consumers, says he intends to do so within 60 days. "The case is moving forward with an amended complaint," he says.
The litigation stemmed from reports last year that Apple devices' unique identifiers -- 40-character alphanumeric strings that identify individual phones -- were transmitted to app developers and their affiliates. The lawsuit alleged that third parties were then able to use the unique device identifiers to track consumers "on an ongoing basis, across numerous applications."
The consumers alleged that third parties were able to gather "personal, private, and sensitive information that included consumers' video application viewing choices, Web browsing activities, and their personal characteristics such as gender, age, race, family status, education level, geographic location, and household income."
But the consumers didn't connect all of the dots between themselves, the mobile ad companies and Apple, according to Koh. "Plaintiffs do not identify what iDevices they used, do not identify which defendant (if any) accessed or tracked their personal information, do not identify which apps they downloaded that access/track their personal information, and do not identify what harm (if any) resulted from the access or tracking of their personal information," Koh wrote. "The allegations are especially slim with respect to defendant Apple."
The mobile companies named in the suit were AdMob, Flurry, MobClix, Pinch Media, Millenial Media, AdMarval and Quattro Wireless.
Koh also pointed out in her 21-page opinion that a privacy lawsuit against the ad network Specific Media was recently dismissed by a different judge because the consumers in that case didn't allege they suffered any tangible injuries from alleged online tracking.
Specific Media was sued for allegedly using hard-to-delete Flash cookies to track Web users. That case was refiled and Specific Media ultimately settled the matter; Specific Media denied that it had ever used Flash cookies for tracking.
Apple told developers last month that it intends to stop giving them access to device identifiers. But mobile ad networks might still be able to track users through other means, like device fingerprinting.