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Judge allows app-related Apple privacy case to go forward

A California judge has ruled that an app-related privacy case against Apple can proceed, but found that claims against Google and others can be dismissed.

Apple must defend itself against charges that its devices allowed third-party apps to unlawfully collect and use for commercial purposes its users' personal information, California district Judge Lucy Koh ruled yesterday. The judge, however, dropped similar charges against Google, Flurry, AdMarval, Medialets and the Google-owned AdMob.

The judge did dismiss several parts of the case against Apple, including allegations that its practices violated the Wiretap Act, but Cupertino will still face charges that it violated the Consumer Legal Remedies Act and the Unfair Competition Law.

The case wraps together multiple lawsuits that have been filed against Apple amidst allegations that it mishandled users' personal data.

In December 2010, for example, Jonathan Lalo sued Apple for allowing ad networks to track a user's app activity. That came after a Wall Street Journal study examined 101 mobile applications and found that iPhone apps distribute more personal data without the users' permission than Android apps.

The following year, meanwhile, researchers found that Apple iOS 4 location information was stored in an insecure manner and accessible to anyone who stumbled upon your iPhone, iPad or the computer with which you synced your iOS device. That prompted concerns that Apple, and anyone who looked at that data, could track your whereabouts. Apple later said iOS 4 devices captured so much data due to a "bug," which was fixed via iOS 4.3.3. But Cupertino was sued again by Lymaris M. Rivera Diaz of Puerto Rico.

In total, 19 lawsuits were filed on the privacy issue, all of which were combined into one suit overseen by Judge Koh. In September, she dismissed the lawsuit, but gave the plaintiffs a chance to appeal. They did, and this week's decision is based on that updated complaint, according to Reuters.

The plaintiffs alleged in their suit that Apple designed its devices to let mobile advertising and analytics companies, like Google and its co-defendants, collect personal data through free app downloads. Among the information gathered were users' gender, age, ZIP (Post) code, time code and app-specific information performed on the devices.

Koh said in the suit that there "is some ambiguity" as to whether Apple's user agreements shielded the company from liability. The notion that Apple cannot control third parties, meanwhile, is contradictory because Apple says "it takes precautions to protect consumer privacy," and because the suit says Apple handed over that data to app makers.

"Although the apps at issue in this litigation are provided for free, Plaintiffs contend that they in fact pay a price for the use of the 'free' apps because these Apple-approved apps allow their personal dad to be collected from their iDevices," the suit said.

Apple did not immediately respond to request for comment.