Dec 30, 2010 (03:12 AM EST)
Apple May Face More Privacy Lawsuits

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Apple and several application developers sued for allegedly misusing the personal data of iPhone and iPad users are likely to face more lawsuits in the future as consumers turn to the courts for privacy protection.

Apple and the creators of Backflip, Dictionary.com, Pandora, The Weather Channel, and other applications were named in two class action lawsuits filed last week in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., The Washington Post reported. The suits seek to prevent the applications from sharing personal data found on iPhones and iPads, including ages, gender, location, and a unique device identifying number that Apple assigns to each of its mobile devices.

The lawsuits come as federal officials debate over what actions government should take to protect privacy as companies look to profit from ad-supported application services on smartphones and other mobile devices. The Federal Trade Commission recommended this month that consumers be offered a no-tracking option before signing up for services, while the Commerce Department favors establishing a code of conduct that businesses could voluntarily agree to follow. Once the commitment is made, businesses would be monitored to ensure the rules are followed.

While privacy is being debated in government, the latest suits are an indication that consumers are turning to the courts for protection and that trend is likely to continue. "I would not be surprise if there were more lawsuits," Kevin D. Pomfret, a lawyer who advises businesses on privacy issues for the national law firm LeClairRyan, told InformationWeek Wednesday. "This is an area where the law is unclear."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

One of the lawsuits was filed by the firm KamberLaw on behalf of Jonathan Lalo of Los Angeles County. KamberLaw specializes in digital privacy cases. The second suit was filed by Dallas lawyer Majed Nachawati of Fears and Nachawati, which is looking to represent Texas and California iPhone and iPad users in the class-action complaint. Both lawsuits accuse the companies of violating federal computer fraud and privacy laws.

To avoid being named in a privacy suit, Pomfret is advising companies to consider carefully why they need user data and be sure to use it only for the purposes approved in advance by the owners of that data. In addition, companies need to be sure that data shared with other companies is not used for other purposes without prior approval. "Unfortunately, there's no clear-cut answer right now, because of the uncertainty," he says.

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