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.