Nineteen mobile app makers for both Android and Apple iOS platforms, including Apple, Facebook and Twitter, were hit with a class action lawsuit late last week, filed in an Austin court. At issue is the improper and unauthorized access to private address book information for corporate gain. The suit has risen to class action status with thirteen Plaintiffs signing on to the legal action looking to cover a group of people "...all similarly situated" in the 152-page complaint filed in US District Court Western District of Texas, Austin Division (Case No. 1:12-ev-00219).
Interestingly, on the cover sheet of the document filed with the court is a quote from American minister Robert Fulghum's popular 1988 classic work, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, in large bold italic letters: "Don't take things that aren't yours."
Other companies named in the lawsuit include: Path, Beluga, Yelp, Burbn, Instagram, Foursquare, Gowalla, Foodspotting, Hipster, LinkedIn, Rovio, ZeptoLab, Chillingo, Electronic Arts and Kik Interactive.
Specific Laws Broken
Among the list of violations alleged include the 1986 Federal ECPA (short for Electronic Communications Privacy Act) and Texas State law, the Texas Wiretapping Law.
The lawsuit alleges the companies "...made, distributed and sold mobile software applications (Apps.) that, once installed on a wireless mobile device, surreptitiously harvest, upload and illegally steal the owner's address book data without the owner's knowledge or consent." The group then turns to a recent New York Times published report detailing same.
The Privacy Issue Brewing
The mobile app privacy issue has been brewing for months, if not longer. In early February, the photo sharing app Path was under scrutiny for its reported practice of uploading the entire contact list from iPhone users by default, according to a PCMag.com story. Also in February, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) issued a Warning Letter (02/07/2012) that mobile apps may violate the (FCRA) Fair Credit Reporting App, and the agency sent letters to "...Marketers of Six Apps for Background Screening."
This is not the first time mobile apps have come under the privacy microscope. Back in December 2010, Apple was sued along with several iOS developers for transmitting users' personal information to ad networks without consent.