Harvesting your data? Suit alleges there are lots of apps doing that.

Apparently there really are apps for everything, including mining your personal data without your permission.

A class-action lawsuit was filed in an Austin, Texas court the week of March 12 that alleges some of the most-downloaded mobile apps are harvesting personal information without users' knowledge.

The suit against 18 companies, including Facebook, Apple, Yelp and Twitter, says some of the information collected include contact names, phone numbers, e-mail accounts and birthdays.

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"The defendants -- several of the world's largest and most influential technology and social networking companies -- have unfortunately made, distributed and sold mobile software applications that, once installed on a wireless mobile device, surreptitiously harvest, upload and illegally steal the owner's address book data without the owner's knowledge or consent," stated the lawsuit.

It also alleges that information taken in secret is a direct violation of policies put into place by app distributers Apple, Amazon and Google. The suit points to research showing that app makers that harvest data can receive at least 60 cents per contact information when sold.

The lawsuit filed in a United States District Court is seeking to halt personal data collection and to have the companies named in the suit destroy any information collected.  

Lawyers representing the lawsuit defendants said this issue comes down to the basic notion that you shouldn't take what isn't yours.

"Every second-grader knows that's something, a standard that they should be held to, and we're going to ask the defendant companies, 'Shouldn't you?'" attorney Jeff Edwards said.

Path, one of the companies named in the lawsuit, publically apologized in February after it was discovered that the developer's photo sharing app uploaded an iPhone user's entire phone address book without permission.

The new lawsuit also comes on the heels of Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, Research in Motion and Hewlett-Packard agreeing to a privacy standard that would hold app makers accountable for notifying users on privacy matters.

The accord, sponsored last month by California's attorney general, will set a standard that mandates applications clearly state what personal information is being collected, when it will be collected and how the data will be used.

A similar lawsuit against Apple that was filed in a California court last year was thrown out after the plaintiff's lawyers were unable to prove that data collected by iOS apps did any harm to customers.

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Reader Comments

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 SoutheastUS

Levies, fines, and judgements against corporate defendants should be set on percent of gross revenues (average of previous five years) rather than a set figure. Then you might get enough out of these larger companies to give them sufficient incentive to "behave" well. Just look at how many industrial companies pay their environmental fines and go on "business as usual".

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 Cowboy Joe

Given the amount of money these companies make, I'd say - if convicted - the fines oughta just about cover all of DOJs operating costs for a year or two. The US tax payers might not see that much difference, but every little bit helps.

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