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Privacy suit filed against Path, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, others

Address book issue with mobile apps prompts privacy lawsuit against app makers.


Thirteen individuals have filed a lawsuit against more than a dozen mobile app makers--including Path, Twitter, Apple, and Facebook--who were accused of automatically uploading user address books without permission.

The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas, names 13 plaintiffs, most of them from Austin, and seeks class-action status. The defendants in the suit are: Path, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Beluga, Yelp, Burbn, Instagram, Foursquare Labs, Gowalla, Foodspotting, Hipster, LinkedIn, Rovio Mobile, ZeptoLab UK, Chillingo, Electronic Arts, and Kik.

"Literally billions of contacts from the address books of tens of millions of unsuspecting wireless mobile device owners have now been accessed and stolen," the suit says. "The surreptitious data uploads--occurring over both cellular networks and open, public wireless access nodes in homes, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, stores, and businesses all across the nation--have, quite literally, turned the address book owners' wireless mobile devices into mobile radio beacons broadcasting and publicly exposing the unsuspecting device owner's address book data to the world."

The lawsuit was prompted by reports last month that Path and a bunch of other apps were snagging address books from users without their permission when the users were prompted to find friends to connect with. The companies claimed they weren't doing anything nefarious and figured that the users would have realized that access to contact lists were needed to provide the functionality. The news prompted questions from Congress for Apple, as well as public backlash, despite the fact that Path, Apple, and others promised to fix the problem.

Representatives from Twitter, Path and Kik said they had no comment on the lawsuit. LinkedIn spokesman Hani Durzy said, "Yes, we've seen the suit. It's baffling, because quite simply, our mobile apps do not do what is alleged in the suit." ZeptoLab provided this statement: "As far as we know we have not been legally served with any lawsuit, and thus have no comment at this time." Representatives from the other companies did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment today.

Privacy has become a huge topic of concern for the industry, particularly when it comes to mobile devices. Google, Apple, and other mobile platform providers have reached an agreement with the California Attorney General's office to require app developers to post visible privacy policies. And the Obama Administration is pushing for a code of conduct and is looking toward legislation to protect consumer privacy online.