App Developers Win Round In Privacy Lawsuit


A federal judge has dismissed a privacy lawsuit by consumers against 17 tech companies on the grounds that the consumers' written complaint -- which is supposed to outline their allegations and legal theories -- is too unwieldy for them to proceed.

"The court is not sure who these voluminous screeds are addressed to," U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin, Texas wrote in an order throwing out the 343-page complaint. "Certainly, they are not written with an eye toward this court's busy docket. Perhaps, plaintiffs had the court of public opinion in mind when they drafted them."

The lawsuit dates to March, when a group of consumers sued Path, Hipster, Twitter, Facebook and other tech companies for allegedly collecting or storing users' address books without their consent.

Sparks said he found that allegation "simple enough." But he blasted the legal papers as "wholly deficient," writing that the complaint was "laced with exhibits of dubious value, irrelevant and inappropriate editorializing, needless repetition, paragraphs which are 'intentionally' left blank, and a general attitude of smug pomposity."

He gave the consumers until Sept. 12 to file amended papers, and added that any new complaint "must thoroughly comply with both the letter and spirit of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, this order, and the dictates of legal professionalism."

Federal rules specify that complaints must contain a "short and plain statement" of the allegations.

The litigation was sparked by a series of reports 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. Around the same time, a different developer reported that the mobile app Hipster downloaded users' contacts without their permission.

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 did not specify that the data would be stored.

The consumers originally sued 17 app developers: 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 consumers later withdrew the complaint against LinkedIn.

The users also sued Apple for allegedly enabling app developers to scoop up users' address books.



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