Following a recent investigation by independent researchers that claimed Apple was continuing to follow consumers in its mobile apps, even when they had explicitly updated their iPhone privacy settings to turn to track off, a new lawsuit is targeting Apple’s data-gathering tactics. Plaintiff Elliot Libman is suing on behalf of himself and other harmed consumers in a proposed class action lawsuit, arguing that Apple’s privacy promises violate the California Invasion of Privacy Act.
Details on Apple is being sued after it was discovered that privacy settings on the iPhone do not prevent the device from tracking users
According to Gizmodo, app developers and independent researchers Tommy Mysk and Talal Haj Bakry discovered last week that Apple was still collecting data about its users across a number of first-party apps, even after users turned off an iPhone Analytics setting that promises to “disable the sharing of Device Analytics entirely.” The researchers analyzed Apple’s own apps in their experiments, including the App Store, Apple Music, Apple TV, Books, and Stocks, and discovered that removing this setting, as well as other privacy safeguards, had no effect on Apple’s data collecting.
The App Store, for example, was still tracking information such as what app users tapped on, what they searched for, what adverts they saw, how long they stayed on a certain app’s page, and how the app was discovered. The software then sends information such as ID numbers, phone kind, screen resolution, keyboard languages, and other parameters that may be used in device fingerprinting.
If a user disables either iPhone or iPad Analytics, Apple will “block [the sharing of] Device Analytics entirely,” according to Apple’s device settings. Furthermore, consumers are led to assume that if they disable other settings such as “Allow Apps to Request to Track” or “Share [Device] Analytics,” Apple will stop collecting their data. Despite these privacy protections, Apple “continues to collect users’ app usage, app browsing communications, and personal information in its proprietary Apple apps,” specifically the App Store, Apple Music, Apple TV, Books, and Stocks, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint goes on to describe the researchers’ results and what data was obtained. Stocks, for example, tracked users’ watchlists, the names of stocks they viewed and searched for, news stories they read in the app, and other information. According to the suit, the majority of the apps had identical ID numbers, allowing Apple to follow users throughout various apps.
In light of these new results, the complaint claims that Apple’s privacy pledges and commitments are “utterly fraudulent.” It also noted that this level of data collecting was inconsistent with industry standards, as both Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge browsers could not collect the same type of data if their own analytics settings were off.
“The data Apple secretly gathers is precisely the type of private, personal information consumers seek and expect to preserve when they take the procedures Apple outlines for users to regulate the private information Apple acquires,” according to the complaint. “… Apple’s hidden, deceptive, and unlawful recording and collecting of consumers’ private chats and app activities has no basis.”
The plaintiff wants the complaint to be certified as a class action, and she wants compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages, as well as additional equitable monetary relief.
Apple has yet to react to a comment request.
If true, this type of data collecting would cast doubt on Apple’s implementation of Apple Tracking Transparency (ATT), which the company claimed would allow customers more control over how their app data was utilized in tailored advertising. As opponents have pointed out, ATT harmed the advertising businesses of key digital companies like Meta and Snapchat while increasing Apple’s own advertising market share.
According to a September 2022 report by InMobi’s Appsumer, Apple’s advertising business benefited from the launch of ATT, allowing the Cupertino tech giant to join the Facebook (now Meta)-Google advertising duopoly by increasing its adoption by 4 percentage points to 94.8% year on year, while Facebook’s adoption fell 3% to 82.8%. Meta, of course, has long warned that Apple’s ATT will reduce its ad income, estimating a $10 billion impact in 2022.
In addition, to capitalize on its better ad position, Apple recently added new ad spots to the App Store. Many developers were dismayed to discover that those ad spots were being sold to gambling app producers and others whom they deemed unfit to be offered alongside their own.
Following the launch of ATT and the expansion of its App Store business, which has given Apple tremendous power in the app market generally, Apple has also faced growing scrutiny over its policies. The company is currently challenging Epic Games in an appeals court over App Store fees and Apple’s alleged antitrust activity. Furthermore, the US Department of Justice is rumored to be crafting an antitrust complaint against Apple.
This latest lawsuit, while smaller in scope than others, has the potential for far-reaching consequences if the researchers’ conclusions are proven valid and upheld in court.