Lawsuits will pressure Apple and Google to protect user privacy

On December 17, the Wall Street Journal published an investigative story that detailed how popular iPhone and Android apps like Pandora, The Weather Channel and Angry Birds breach user privacy. Less than a week later, the first lawsuits were filed.

So far, two suits seeking class action status have been filed, pushing for a ban on the sharing by apps of personal data like geo-location and phone numbers with advertisers. They also seek monetary compensation. The defendants include the developers of the apps in question as well as Apple. Google, which developed the Android platform, may face similar suits.

Smartphone owners who are concerned about advertisers receiving personal data without their consent may be encouraged if these lawsuits lead to stronger protection. But for Apple and Google they complicate matters. There is a fundamental tension between making mobile ads a valuable platform for advertisers and respecting the privacy of mobile device users. It’s going to take a long time to untangle the whole mess, and the lawsuits apply pressure to find a quick solution.

Google and Apple are pushing out new mobile advertising networks that, in theory at least, can use everything from a consumer’s location to search and buying history to the shopping preferences of friends in order to deliver ads that consumers might actually want to click on. It’s been a dream of online advertisers ever since the first web browser cookie was served.

But reports like that in the Journal remind users how much data is being gathered on them, and the reminder makes people gun-shy about sharing data or even using questionable apps. I haven’t used Pandora since finding out just what data it was sharing on me, and I doubt I’m alone.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette countersues Mylan

This one comes in on the wrong side of the weekend, but it’s worth some attention to people who follow the media and follow financial news: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sued pharmaceutical company Mylan on Friday — that action itself a countersuit to Mylan’s lawsuit against the paper. (Read the documents for yourself at this blog.)

Mylan Inc’s subsidiary Mylan Pharmaceuticals sued the Post-Gazette and two of its journalists in August, claiming that the daily paper and its reporters improperly obtained confidential documents and misappropriated trade secrets in the process of reporting and publishing a story on an internal company report about potential problems at Mylan’s Morgantown, West Virginia, plant. Mylan’s internal report, as the Post-Gazette reported, showed that employees had overridden computer-generated warnings about possible problems in its drug-making process.

Mylan naturally wasn’t crazy about that, prompting the lawsuit. Now, the Post-Gazette is smacking back. Here is an excerpt from its own news story:

Bollywood to plagiarism: Bye bye?

Filmmakers in Bollywood, India’s movie industry, are notorious for borrowing liberally from foreign films far and wide, especially Hollywood.

Even when they don’t copy an entire film frame by frame, Bollywood directors often borrow from several films at once, melding story lines and adapting them to an Indian setting, complete with song and dance. They do this, of course, without buying the remaking rights. Despite a lot of original cinema coming out of Bollywood, plagiarism is rife.

Hollywood hasn’t cared until now, The Washington Post’s Emily Wax reports. Twentieth Century Fox recently settled a lawsuit with BR Films — a well-known banner — over its remake of the 1992 hit “My Cousin Vinny.” Fox accepted $200,000, paving the way for a release of the Hindi version, called “Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai” or “This Guy is Fearless”.

La Russa V. Biz

He’s a legend on the baseball diamond.

But Tony La Russa is not inspiring any awe at Twitter, the red-hot microblogging service that La Russa sued last month.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone called the suit — which relates to a Twitter user impersonating the famed St. Louis Cardinals manager — an “unnecessary waste of judicial resources bordering on frivolous,” in a blog post on the company Web site on Saturday titled “Not playing ball.”

Stone said reports that Twitter has settled the suit and agreed to pay La Russa’s legal fees are “erroneous,” noting that Twitter’s policy is to suspend, delete or transfer control of false accounts and that its staff acted in accordance with the policy when it was notified about the La Russa situation.

Fox, New York Times sue U.S. government

The latest by-product of the financial crisis? Media lawsuits. More specifically: Government agencies deny or fail to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by media organizations, which then sue to force the government to own up.

The two latest cases are from News Corp’s Fox Business Network and The New York Times (both outlets’ complaints are pasted below). Fox sued for what it said was the government’s failure to respond to a FOIA request, filed on February 26, 2009, which sought records relating to information that the Securities and Exchange Commission received regarding the potential violations of the securities laws or any other potential wrongdoing by R. Allen Stanford, or Stanford Financial Group and its affiliates. This request included, but was not limited to, the SEC’s response to complaints, tips or information and any resulting audits, inquiries and investigations.

The Times’s complaint, filed by investigative reporter and Washington Post alum Jo Becker and her editor, chides the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Dept. for stalling or failing to disclose documents related to the financial crisis, including communications between some of the top dogs in the bailout program over the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP.

Four-wheeling at Disneyland

Disabled Segway riders who were barred from using the vehicles at Walt Disney theme parks may soon find themselves four-wheelin’ down Main Street under a proposed settlement the company reached with three disabled parkgoers who had sued for the right to use the personal transporters.

In their 2007 lawsuit, the three Segway owners argued that Disney violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by providing only sit-down wheelchairs and motorized scooters for disabled parkgoers.  Disney denied any wrongdoing in the settlement, court documents showed.

Under the settlement, Disney won’t allow Segways in its parks because of the potential danger to other parkgoers because of the vehicles’ 12 mph speed capability. The company will instead develop its own four-wheeled ESV, an electrically powered vehicle designed for operation while standing.  If the settlement is approved by a judge, Disney will make at least 15 of the vehicles available for parkgoers to rent at each of its U.S. parks starting in April 2009, court documents showed.