Florida, N.Y. consumers sue Apple over location tracking

Call Apple's practice 'unconscionable,' demand company disable tracking feature

Two men have sued Apple over the iPhone and iPad location tracking practice researchers made public last week, according to court documents.

The lawsuit follows a prediction made last week by Jim Harvey, a partner with the law firm of Alston & Bird and an expert in privacy law, that Apple would likely face legal challenges. "I wouldn't be surprised if someone decided to sue Apple over this," Harvey said on Thursday in an interview.

Vikram Ajjampur of Florida and William Devito of New York filed their lawsuit last Friday in a Florida federal court, accusing Apple of fraud, deceptive business practices and several additional violations of federal and state laws. Ajjampur and Devito have asked a federal judge to grant the case class-action status.

Their lawsuit came just two days after British researchers reported that iPhones and 3G iPads running iOS 4 logged up to 100 location entries daily. Those locations are stored in an unencrypted file on the mobile devices, as well as on owners' personal computers.

"Plaintiffs and proposed Class members were harmed by Apple's accrual of personal location, movement and travel histories because their personal computers were used in ways they did not approve, and because they were personally tracked just as if by a tracking device for which a court-ordered warrant would ordinarily be required," the lawsuit claimed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, an iPhone monitors and records the device's location even when location tracking services are turned off, a point that Ajjampur and Devito noted in their complaint.

The two asked a federal judge to issue an injunction that would stop the location tracking practice and require Apple to disable the feature in the next version of iOS, the mobile operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad. They also sought unspecified damages.

"It is unconscionable to allow Apple to continue unlawfully and without proper consent tracking Plaintiffs and proposed Class members," the lawsuit stated. "If Apple wanted to track the whereabouts of each of its products' users, it should have obtained specific, particularized informed consent such that Apple consumers across America would not have been shocked and alarmed to learn of Apple's practices in recent days."

Apple also faces Congressional scrutiny in the U.S., and possible regulatory investigations in several other countries.

Last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) sent letters to Apple asking the company to answer questions about the location tracking.

Today, Markey called on Congress to investigate Apple's practice.

"Congress should immediately commence an investigation into this critical issue to help improve companies' disclosure policies so consumers and families can understand who is seeing their information," Markey said.

Markey is co-chairman of the House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus; Franken chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the lawsuit, and has not responded to earlier questions about its location tracking.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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