Three law firms based in Austin, Texas recently filed suit on behalf of 13 people claiming that almost 20 apps, including Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp and Twitter, violate policies put in place by distributers such as Apple’s App Store, Amazon’s App Store and Google Play. The American Statesmen reports that the violations are a result of mobile apps “stealing” address book data, such as names, phone numbers, email addresses and even birthdays. The lawsuit seeks to stop app developers from harvesting data without permission. The complaint cites an industry publication that claims the information collected could be worth 60 cents to several dollars per contact.
A New York Times article investigating contact mining recently noted that “the address book in smartphones — where some of the user’s most personal data is carried — is free for app developers to take at will, often without the phone owner’s knowledge.” The app developers use the data in an effort to expand the number of people using their program. Developers use email addresses to target potential new customers and to target advertisements. Several companies, including Path, a social networking site, have issued apologies regarding “how [their] application used your phone contacts.”
Attorney Richard Newman, an Internet law attorney and managing partner of the Hinch Newman firm, with offices in both California and New York, thinks that the lawsuits are starting to have an impact. Mr. Newman stated “the mobile communications industry is finding that failing to properly inform consumers of what is happening to their information is increasingly grabbing the attention of regulatory authorities, including the Federal Trade Commission.” Until a regulatory framework is hammered out to govern emerging data privacy issues, litigation may be one of the only things keeping pace with technology development.