Commentary

Consumers Revise Lawsuit About iPhone Tracking

Late last year, Apple was hit with a flurry of lawsuits over reports that the iPhone and iPad unique identifiers -- 40-character strings that identify phones -- were transmitted to app developers and their affiliates.

Around a dozen total lawsuits were filed against Apple and various mobile developers. The cases were consolidated in front of U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, Calif, who ruled against the consumers in September. She ruled that the consumers hadn't spelled out how they were injured by the potential privacy breach.

Koh threw out the cases, but did so without prejudice, meaning that the consumers were free to rewrite their lawsuit and file it again.

On Monday, they did. This latest complaint sets out some new theories about how the consumers were harmed by the transmissions.

Specifically, they allege that had they known that information about them was going to be transmitted, they wouldn't have paid as much as they did for iPads or iPhones.

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They also argue that the act of transmitting their data -- including their gender, age, zip code, searches performed “and selections of movies, songs, restaurants or even versions of the Bible” -- ate up battery power, storage and bandwidth. “Each of the plaintiffs had the resources of their iDevice consumed and diminished without their permission,” the new lawsuit alleges.

Whether these additional charges will be enough for the consumers to proceed is hard to say. A number of privacy lawsuits against companies ranging from Facebook to LinkedIn to Spokeo have recently been thrown out on the ground that the consumers weren't harmed by the alleged breach. But other privacy cases, including a lawsuit against ad network Interclick, have been allowed to go forward.

Either way, Apple recently said it would stop giving developers access to device identifiers. Even so, absent some sort of judicial or legislative intervention, mobile ad networks might be able to track users through other means, like device fingerprinting.

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