App Developers Seek Dismissal Of Address-Book Uploads Suit


Mobile app developers are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing them of violating users' privacy by stealthily uploading their address books.

In a joint motion filed late last week, 10 app developers -- including Path, Instagram, and Yelp -- argue that the users who are suing were not injured by any data collection. Therefore, the companies argue, the users lack "standing" to pursue claims in federal court.

The legal dispute dates to March, when Texas resident Marc Opperman and 12 other smartphone users brought a potential class-action lawsuit against a slew of tech companies for allegedly collecting or storing 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 banning app developers from uploading address books without permission.



Path and the other companies argue that the case should be dismissed in its entirety. Specifically, they contend that the consumers haven't made out a case for invasion of privacy -- or the related claim of "intrusion upon seclusion" -- for two reasons.

First, there's no allegation that the mobile developers publicized the data in the address books. Second, the companies argue that contact information isn't considered "private" under Texas law. "Address book data is not private, and accessing it is not considered 'highly offensive; to a reasonable person," the companies assert.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Austin, stems from a series of reports detailing gaffes by app developers. 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. Soon afterward, reports emerged that a host of mobile companies, including Twitter, were downloading and storing users' address books.

The app developers named in the lawsuit are Path, Twitter, Facebook, Beluga, Yelp, Burbn, Instagram, Foursquare Labs, Gowalla, Foodspotting, Hipster, Kirk Interactive, Rovio (which distributes "Angry Birds"), and "Cut the Rope" developers ZeptoLab, Chillingo and Electronic Arts.

The joint motion, filed late last week, was brought on behalf of 10 of those companies -- Instagram, Gowalla, Chillingo, Electronic Arts, Foodspotting, Foursquare, Kik Interactive, Path, Rovio and Yelp.

Twitter, Facebook and Apple filed separate legal papers late last week. Twitter argued that the case against it should proceed separately from the lawsuit against the app developers and other companies.

Apple argues that it's not liable for the actions of third-party developers who offer apps. Facebook -- which hired key Gowalla personnel last year -- says it's not responsible for the actions of any of the mobile developers named in the lawsuit.



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