Consumers Seek Class-Action Status In Apple Privacy Battle

Apple continues to misrepresent the extent to which iPhones' unique device identifiers are sent to third parties, according to a group of consumers who are suing the company for allegedly violating their privacy.

The consumers argue in new court papers that Apple's promise to restrict third parties from accessing devices' 40-character unique identifiers “has thus far been ineffective and leaves class members personal information exposed.”

The consumers make this argument in a motion asking U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California to grant them class-action status in the case. As a practical matter, consumers often find it prohibitively expensive to hire lawyers. But in class-action cases, attorneys who prevail often are entitled to fee reimbursement.

The consumers in this case sued Apple in 2010, shortly after reports surfaced alleging that developers were able to access iPhone and iPad unique device identifiers -- 40-character strings of letters and numbers.

Apple defines unique device identifiers (UDIDs) as non-personal information. But the consumers argue that the identifiers become “personally identifiable information” when combined with other supposedly anonymous information, such as Zip codes, occupation or area code.

Shortly after it was sued, Apple promised to limit developers' ability to access unique device identifiers. More recently, the company rolled out advertising identifiers, which function like unique device identifiers, but differ in that they can be reset by consumers.

But the consumers argue that older models of iPhones and iPads continue to transmit unique identifiers.

“For the thousands of Apps which were previously approved and for which no updates have been provided, the use of UDIDs continues unabated and Apple’s privacy policy protections are trampled,” they consumers argue in their motion papers. The papers refer to confidential material, and the publicly available version contains large swaths of blacked-out text, so it's not clear how many legacy devices and apps allegedly continue to transmit the UDIDs.

The consumers also argue that Apple wrongly collected geolocation data from some users who had turned off location services. They are suing Apple for allegedly violating California consumer protection laws prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts.

This lawsuit isn't the only privacy case that Apple faces. The company also is defending itself in a separate action stemming from reports that some app developers scooped up users' address books. In that matter, New Jersey resident Maria Pirozzi alleges that Apple violated California consumer protection laws by misrepresenting its app store policies, which said that all apps “run in a safe environment” and are not capable of accessing data from other apps

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