A man is suing Apple, saying that iPhones and iPads are being used to send personal information to advertisers without users' consent. The devices are equipped with unique identifying numbers. The suit claims that these numbers allow advertisers to track the details of what apps users download, and how long and often those programs are used information that is being shared without permission.
"Some apps are also selling additional information to ad networks, including users' location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political views," according to the suit filed by Jonathan Lalo of Los Angeles, and as reported by Bloomberg. Lalo is also asking that the suit, filed in federal court in San Jose Dec. 23, be given class-action status.
Lalo is referring to Unique Device Identifiers, also known as UDIDs, which are a series of 40 letters and numbers specific to an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.
The UDID is "like a serial number but much harder to guess," says Inner Fence, a Seattle company that makes a credit card reader app for the iPhone. "It will look something like this: 2b6f0cc904d137be2e1730235f5664094b831186."
Users are not able to block their UDIDs from advertisers, Lalo contends, and says in the lawsuit that the transmission of that personal information violates federal computer fraud and privacy laws.
Apple, which does not respond to questions regarding lawsuits, has said that the apps in its App Store are not allowed to mine customer data without customer permission.
The Wall Street Journal, in a recent report on smart phone data mining, found the opposite to be true:
Many apps tested by the Journal appeared to violate that rule, by sending a user's location to ad networks, without informing users. Apple declines to discuss how it interprets or enforces the policy.
Also being named in the suit are several makers of apps, including popular programs such as Pandora, Dictionary.com and The Weather Channel. (NBC owns The Weather Channel, and msnbc.com is a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft.)
The Journal's story wasn't only about Apple's devices; it also looked at Android-based phones, those using Google's operating system.
Reported the newspaper: "An examination of 101 popular smart phone apps ... showed that 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without users' awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone's location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders."