Posted by: oldmacbloggit | January 3, 2011

iOS privacy lawsuit

Happy New Year, and welcome to the second year of Mac Virus’ existence since David Harley relaunched it as a Small Blue-Green World blog. (Happy birthday to us, happy….)

The Apple-watching media (including BBC TV) have largely focused on the high-profile problem with the iPhone alarm (yes, another one…) Blogwatcher Richi Jennings has done an excellent job, as usual, of compiling a list of articles that deal with that issue.

 The Register’s Rik Myslewski reports an issue with a more obvious and more disquieting security connection, though. (Yes, it was actually a few days ago, but even we take time off occasionally.) Apple has been named in a class action over an alleged failure to prevent iGadget apps from transmitting user data without the user’s permission.

 According to a Bloomberg Business Week article by Joel Rosenblatt, the suit claims that iPads and iPhones “are encoded with identifying devices that allow advertising networks to track what applications users download, how frequently they’re used and for how long.”

The suit identifies a number of applications including Pandora, Paper Toss, the Weather Channel and Dictionary.com as co-defendants, claiming that data such as “users’ location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political views” are being sold to ad networks.

How much truth there is in these allegations, I don’t know. After all, there’s no suggestion that these are enterprises known for their fly-by-night phishing expeditions. But an investigation by the Wall Street Journal suggests that 56 out of 101 popular smartphone apps transmitted more information than users might like (for instance, their location), and including (in a minority of cases) age, gender and other personal data.

According to The Register, the App Store Review guidelines state that “Apps cannot transmit data about a user without obtaining the user’s prior permission and providing the user with access to information about how and where the data will be used.”

Let’s assume that no significant harm has been done to anyone so far, for the sake of argument. Nonetheless, Apple’s ability to keep its promises with respect to the vetting of apps has been called into question. If people lose faith in the company’s ability to maintain that security model, that can’t be a good thing for Apple.

Old Mac

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