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Apple Ducks Suit Over Apps That Spy on Users

(CN) - Users whose iPhone and iPad apps allegedly tracked their habits and sold their information to advertisers cannot prove they relied on Apple's privacy policy, a federal judge ruled.

Jonathan Lalo led the first class action in 2010 that claimed Apple had approved apps for the iPhones and iPads that intercepted personal information and trackedusers' habits without authorization.

"Apple claims to review each application before offering it to its users, purports to have implemented app privacy standards, and claims to have created 'strong privacy protections' for its customers," the complaint stated.

Lalo said Apple also claimed that "it does not allow apps to transmit data about a user without consent."

The class action identified apps such as Dictionary.com, Pandora, the Weather Channel and Backflip - creator of the "Paper Toss app" - as those that collected and passed along confidential data, including users' geographic location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political affiliations, to third-party ad networks.

Eighteen other class actions were ultimately consolidated with Lalo's case in multidistrict litigation in the Northern District of California.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh granted Apple summary judgment on the case Monday, finding that users cannot show they relied on Apple's alleged misrepresentations and were harmed by them.

"Critically, none of the plaintiffs presents evidence that he or she even saw, let alone read and relied upon, the alleged misrepresentations contained in the Apple Privacy Policies, SLAs [Software License Agreements], or App Store Terms and Conditions, either prior to purchasing his or her iPhone, or at any time thereafter," Koh wrote (italics in original).

While numerous plaintiffs testified that privacy protection was an important factor in their decision to buy an iPhone, these claims lack the specificity to support a fraud claim, the judge found.

"Plaintiffs each allude to a vague 'understanding' regarding Apple's privacy policies without providing any evidence whatsoever concerning the basis for this understanding," the 30-page judgment states. "But a vague 'understanding' about Apple's privacy policies is not enough. To survive summary judgment, plaintiffs are required to set forth 'specific facts' in support of standing."

That each of the plaintiffs had an iTunes account, requiring them agree to Apple's privacy policy, also does not indicate reliance.

"The mere fact that plaintiffs had to scroll through a screen and click on a box stating that they agreed with the Apple Privacy Policy in July 2010 does not establish, standing alone, that plaintiffs actually read the alleged misrepresentations contained in that privacy policy, let alone that these misrepresentations subsequently formed the basis for plaintiffs' 'understanding' regarding Apple's privacy practices," Koh said.

In a previous ruling, Koh blocked the plaintiffs from seeking damages for the collection of personal information itself because they did not show that the collection caused concrete harm.

The plaintiffs had still sought economic damages, arguing that they overpaid for their iPhones given the decreased battery life and bandwidth caused by the apps' data collection practices.

But without "some evidence that [plaintiffs] saw one or more of Apple's alleged misrepresentations, that they actually relied on those misrepresentaions, and that they were harmed thereby," the plaintiffs have no case, Koh concluded (italics in original).

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