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Apple finds itself in a familiar place -- in court, being sued by its customers. Before it faced suits for trying to destroy its customers' devices. Now it is being sued for allegedly endangering its customers safety by storing its customers' locations in explicit detail in a local device file.  (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The iPad and iPhone both store the file, which tracks users' for the entire life of their devices. If the information fell into the wrong hands -- say a stalker or rapist -- it could offer a virtual roadmap of where to find a person, at what times.  (Source: Alasdair Allan/Pete Warden)
Some iPhone and iPad users are taking less kindly to Job & Co.'s tracking than others

The government is demanding answers and the public is getting all nervous.  Not too shabby for a humble discovery by a hard working pair of security researchers.  

The discovery by Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan that Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) popular iPhone and iPad devices track their users' locations in explicit detail without permission has already created a firestorm of debate.  Now it has generated a lawsuit as well.

I. Apple Finds Itself in Court Again

Vikram Ajjampur, an iPhone user in Florida, and William Devito, a New York iPad customer, have filed suit against Apple in Tampa Bay, Florida federal court. The suit was filed on April 22; only two days after Mr. Warden and Mr. Allan presented their findings.

The news organization Reuters interviewed the pair's lawyer, Aaron Mayer.  He kept the discussion high level, stating, "We take issue specifically with the notion that Apple is now basically tracking people everywhere they go. If you are a federal marshal, you have to have a warrant to do this kind of thing, and Apple is doing it without one."

The complaint [PDF] offers juicier details.  It alleges that Apple violated federal computer fraud laws and consumer fraud and deceptive trade practice laws in many states by implementing the undisclosed feature, which records users' positions thousands of times daily and stores it to a permanent internal database.

The pair's complaint seeks a judge's order to force Apple to remove the "feature" and cease tracking people without their permission.  It also demands that Apple issue refunds to any customers who want one, arguing that many customers would not have bought the devices had Apple not deceived them about the tracking.  It also seeks unspecified punitive damages for negligent misrepresentation.

II.  Is Google Just as Bad?

While the feature may make some users wary of buying Apple products, some argue Apple's chief competitor Google Inc. (GOOG) is just as bad or worse.  Apple reportedly never collects the data it stores wirelessly -- though the possibility remains that it was planning to harvest the data sets when customers upgraded their iPhones, returning their old models.

By contrast, Google, makers of the wildly popular Android OS, regularly collects location data, though it only stores a small amount of it locally.  It regularly wipes this store and reportedly takes steps to preserve users' anonymity.

Thus Google may be a bit nosier as a company, but its devices offer less risk to its users.  By contrast Apple's behavior puts users' at a greater risk of privacy invasion by a third party.  Criminals or private investigators could use a questionably obtained device to map a person's frequent whereabouts, possibly putting them in physical or financial danger.

Legally where Apple may have put itself in real trouble was in the claims that it made last year that it did not track users' positions if they disabled location-aware services in it's devices' settings.  This statement now appears to be a blatant lie and puts Apple in a sticky predicament.

Apple has refused comment, publicly.  

But reportedly Apple CEO Steve Jobs has claimed in a short email to a customer that Apple "does not track" users, though he failed to provide any specifics about the scope or precise meaning of his claim.

III. Governments Voice Concern

Even if Apple can defeat the litigation against it on a federal level, it may face pressure at the state level to kill the feature.  Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has ordered [press release] both Google and Apple to give a full accounting of how their devices collect and store users' locations, including how that data is used/distributed.

Outside the U.S., French, German, Italian and South Korean regulators have all launched investigations into the data collection.

It appears that Mr. Warden -- himself a former Apple software engineer -- has created a massive headache for his former employer.  And Mr. Allan, a senior research fellow in Astronomy at University of Exeter in England, was happy to help him out.

The pair has created quite a name for themselves at Apple's expense.  

Apple, though, should be familiar with customers’ lawsuits and the courts by now.  Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 it has faced a steady barrage of lawsuits for trying to limit the ways its customers can use their devices and even trying to destroy the devices of "non-compliant" customers at one point.

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Litigious Predators
By brshoemak on 4/26/2011 2:42:03 PM , Rating: 2
I can't form an informed opinion about this issue without knowing all the facts.

However, it seems that these two defendants are already experts and have a degree of understanding of the technology to merit lawyers being brought in under the vague notion that privacy rights have been violated. All within two days after some initial information was released.

This seems like an opportunistic lawsuit using a basic initial filing with the hope of an actual case being built upon evidence gained during the discovery process. In other words: sue first, hope you have a case later.

btw, I don't support Apple or their practices, I'm just annoyed at people who litigate at the drop of a hat where they see dollar signs. Organizations are already looking into the matter. Once this is all fleshed out we will see what the implications and actual fallout are in this matter.

RE: Litigious Predators
By HrilL on 4/26/2011 3:01:36 PM , Rating: 2
While I don't agree with how sue happy we are as Americans. This is clearly a true violation of our right to privacy and never should have been implemented in the first place. Apple said that if you disabled location services you will not be tracked. They did in fact track these people.

I'm happy I am on iOS version 3.1.3 since from what I've read the tracking started with 3.2.

I hope Apple loses this lawsuit and has to pay billions. Their anti consumer rights agenda needs to end.

RE: Litigious Predators
By Jalek on 4/26/2011 3:27:11 PM , Rating: 2
It's the only way to get their attention, and that of every other company, making the "feature" not worth the cost.

No corporation can be given the benefit of the doubt anymore, they may be run by people, but they're run by greedy people with stockholders demanding continual growth quarter after quarter at any cost.

RE: Litigious Predators
By invidious on 4/26/2011 4:03:22 PM , Rating: 1
Read the constitution!

There is no right to privacy in the constitution. It is an implied right that has been affirmed by the courts in SPECIFIC cases that pertain to the GOVERNMENT infringing on the rights of its citizens.

Rights do not protect you against businesses. Business infractions are civil cases and deal with damages and regulations.

This is in no way a defense of Apple, just a rant about people who dont understand the constitution. I am sure Apple violated some consumer protection regulation and if so will have to change their software and perhaps pay damages.

RE: Litigious Predators
By semiconshawn on 4/26/2011 4:40:28 PM , Rating: 2
Why do you assume all "rights" must be addressed in the constitution?

RE: Litigious Predators
By boobo on 4/26/2011 6:50:42 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry but you're... "right!"

There are constitutional rights and there are legal rights. The legal right to privacy has been upheld multiple times against private entities and even against private individuals.

RE: Litigious Predators
By semiconshawn on 4/26/2011 8:44:17 PM , Rating: 1
Why do you think i was down rated? Being correct has little to do with the articles or comments here. To think the only rights you have are spelled out word for word in the constitution is just simple.

RE: Litigious Predators
By fic2 on 4/26/2011 4:55:29 PM , Rating: 1
I don't know how you came to the conclusion that the defendants are experts. There are two researchers (Warden, Allan) that found the tracking and two completely different people (Ajjampur,Devito) that are suing. The people that filed suit are described as "an iPhone user" and "a New York iPad customer". As anyone here will tell you being an Apple customer of any kind puts you on the other end of the scale from an expert.

Vikram Ajjampur, an iPhone user in Florida, and William Devito, a New York iPad customer, have filed suit against Apple in Tampa Bay, Florida federal court. The suit was filed on April 22; only two days after Mr. Warden and Mr. Allan presented their findings.

RE: Litigious Predators
By brshoemak on 4/26/2011 10:42:37 PM , Rating: 2
Next time I'll be sure to make the sarcasm obvious. Maybe like [sarcasm]text[/sarcasm]

That's my whole point. With absolutely no understanding of what is actually occurring and within 2 days of the data being released, these individuals (whom I assume probably have jobs where they spend a decent chunk of time during an average day) found the time to hopefully read at least one article about the issue, find and hire a lawyer and begin litigious proceedings against Apple. Two days!

That takes someone who is ready to sue regardless of the limited information available with the hope that they can build a case later on and bilk some cash out of Apple. That is what really bothers me about the whole situation.

RE: Litigious Predators
By rs2 on 4/27/2011 12:14:11 AM , Rating: 3
I find it difficult to agree with you, given Apple's record of speedy, aggressive, and often questionable lawsuits. I seem to recall one recent instance, in particular, where Apple was claiming that anyone who built "a rectangular device with rounded corners and a black border" was infringing upon their patents.

So even if these two are just being greedy bastards who jumped the gun on the issue to file a lawsuit against Apple in hopes of scoring a big payday, I can't see how that can be called anything other than karma. What goes around comes around, after all.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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