Thirteen smartphone users have filed a potential class-action lawsuit against a slew of tech companies -- including Path, Hipster, Twitter and Facebook -- for allegedly collecting or storing users' address books.
Path, Twitter and other app developers allegedly distribute apps that "surreptitiously harvest, upload and illegally steal the owner’s address book data without the owner’s knowledge or consent," the users assert in a 150-page complaint filed this week in federal district court in Austin, Texas. The lawsuit appears to be the first stemming from recent reports that app developers were scooping up users' address books without notifying them.
"Literally billions of contacts from the address books of tens of millions of unsuspecting wireless mobile device owners have now been accessed and stolen," Austin resident Marc Opperman and the other smartphone users allege in the complaint. "The surreptitious data uploads ... have, quite literally, turned the address book owners’ wireless mobile devices into mobile radio beacons broadcasting and publicly exposing the unsuspecting device owner’s address book data to the world."
The litigation was sparked by a series of reports that surfaced earlier this year about privacy and mobile apps. The first report, in early February, came from developer Arun Thampi, who blogged that the mobile social network Path collected users' contacts without informing them. Path CEO Dave Morin apologized in a blog post and said Path had deleted the data.
Around the same time, a different developer reported that the mobile app Hipster downloaded users' contacts without their permission. Hipster CEO Doug Ludlow acknowledged that the report was "spot on." He also apologized for the data collection. "We clearly dropped the ball when it comes to protecting our users’ privacy," he wrote.
Shortly afterward, reports emerged that a host of mobile companies, including Twitter, were downloading and storing users' address books. In some cases, the companies reportedly asked users for permission to access their contacts, but didn't make clear that the data would be stored.
The app developers named in the lawsuit are Path, Twitter, Facebook, Beluga, Yelp, Burbn, Instagram, Foursquare Labs, Gowalla, Foodspotting, Hipster, LinkedIn, Kirk Interactive, Rovio (which distributes "Angry Birds"), and "Cut the Rope" developers ZeptoLab, Chillingo and Electronic Arts.
The users also sued Apple for allegedly enabling app developers to scoop up users' address books.
The complaint alleges that the companies invaded users' privacy, engaged in racketeering and violated the federal wiretap statute, among other claims. The users are seeking monetary damages and an injunction that would restrict app developers from uploading users' address books without permission.