Of Apple, Lawsuits, and Privacy Policies

by Matt Klassen on April 27, 2011

When news broke earlier this week that Apple had equipped the iPhone with a sleeper tracking program that tracked and stored detailed location information on the device with users unawares, the mobile public was immediately up in arms. In fact, there was such a public outcry that Apple’s Evil Empire was spying on people with ominous Big Brother tactics that less than a week later the first impetuous lawsuits have already been filed.

But has Apple done anything wrong? To date Apple has yet to comment on the scandal surrounding the latent tracking abilities of its newest iOS 4.0 update found on both the iPhone and the iPad, and for that matter we have yet to hear from any governmental bodies regarding whether or not Apple has actually done anything illegal.

So what exactly are mobile users mad about with Apple? Are they mad that their device communicates information to Apple unbeknownst to the user? Are they mad that Apple may use this information sometime in the future for unknown purposes? Heck, I would guess that many mobile users don’t even know what they’re mad about; they just know that what Apple is doing doesn’t feel right.

While I have no doubt that the news that Apple is tracking you via your iPhone has a disturbingly ominous Big Brother-ish ring to it, as I mentioned in my original piece on this story, every phone tracks its whereabouts and communicates that back to headquarters, its how our phones give us personalized information.

That said, if you’re mad that Apple is tracking your whereabouts, well, you shouldn’t be; triangulating and communicating its position is one of the things the modern smartphone does best and every major mobile OS, be it Android, iOS, or WP7, does it.

So what can you be mad about? If the first lawsuits filed against Apple are any indication, you can be mad at the fact that Apple saves your location information “covertly, surreptitiously and in violations of law.” Of course, without any federal regulators chiming in on the issue, it remains to be seen whether any of these accusations are actually warranted. There’s a big difference between covertly collected and stored information and undocumented collected and stored information.

But don’t fret, if you’re looking for a reason to be mad at Apple, I have at least one for you. The issue at stake in the iPhone tracking fiasco is not that the phone communicates its whereabouts, but that the phone communicates your individual data to Apple in a secretive—and not to mention creepy—way that seemingly violates Apple’s own policies on the matter.

As one CNET writer explains, “Privacy concerns begin to arise when a unique device ID is transmitted, which allows a company to track a customer’s whereabouts over an extended period of time.”

Legal issues aside, while I’m sure that few have actually read Apple’s privacy policy, it seems that Apple is indeed contravening its own rules…or one set of them at least. Its iPhone/iPad privacy statement contains phrases like the following: “The location data and queries collected by Apple are collected in a form that does not personally identify you and may be used by Apple and its partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services.” [italics mine] 

That sort of basic communication transfer is expected, but what Apple is doing is more along the lines of its iTunes/App Store privacy policy, which, surprisingly, is quite different. It reads: “We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising.”

Regardless of what privacy policy Apple thought it was following when it programmed the cloak and dagger tracking system into its iOS 4.0, the fact remains that it does collect very personal information, and it does so in a way that is purported to be easy to hack and easy to steal. Need anything else to be mad about?

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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Bezookie May 20, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I purchased an iPhone 3GS that malfunctioned nearly two years ago. Since then I have been requesting safety information from Apple that I believe should be in the public domain and would answer questions regarding the safe usage of the iPhone.

I have not hired an attorney to represent me in this matter. I have not requested any monetary damages other than what Apple may deem appropriate. To date Apple has refused to answer my questions. I have filed many complaints with government agencies and congressional representatives to no avail.

If Apple is claiming its device is harmless, and or not capable of causing physical damage, I would like to know why my private medical records were requested, why the iPhone has a unique heat shutoff feature, and why Apple has not answered my questions?

I would also like to know why Apple has not responded to my complaint on the Consumer Protection Agencies, SaferProducts.gov site. The report can be found by entering “iphone” in their search for “Reports and Recalls”, or by going to http://saferproducts.gov/ViewIncident/1173237. These reports are checked for accuracy and manufacturers can respond to the government before it is publicly posted.

I believe my privacy has been violated and I was extorted into giving Apple my personal medical records, under the guise that if I provide my records, they would release information pertinent to an accurate medical diagnosis. Almost two years after the incident, I am still experiencing unusual sensations and sensitivity to sunlight where a malfunctioning superheating iPhone touched my face.

My identity, medical records and private information were accidentally made publicly accessible by the saferproducts.gov site, until they were notified of the problem.

One should be asking the question, is Apple conducting unauthorized medical experiments on its users?

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