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Apple is being taken to court over allegations that it lies to consumers about privacy measures to gain an edge on competitors while actually harvesting massive amounts of data to grow advertising revenue.
Despite representations in a campaign touting its privacy features, Apple continues to collect user data and “facilitates interception by third parties,” according to a pair of prospective class actions filed against the company on Thursday. One of the suits accuses Apple of implementing the privacy features to “protect its own ad revenue at the expense of other competitors such as Facebook.”
Apple in 2021 unveiled privacy changes that require apps to obtain user permission to track their activity across other apps and websites. The company assures users that apps “can’t access the system advertising identifier (IDFA)” and can’t collect “information that identifies you or your device, like your email address.” The feature, called App Tracking Transparency, has drastically impacted the ad industry. During a quarterly earnings report on Wednesday, Facebook parent company Meta said the change to Apple’s iOS operating system cost the company $10 billion in revenue in 2022. Alphabet and Twitter have seen similar, but not as drastic, revenue declines partially attributable to the update.
The complaints, filed in California and New York federal court, claim breach of implied contract, invasion of privacy and unjust enrichment. The suit filed in California also claims unfair competition.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Apple said, “Identifiable information is never shared with third parties and is not used to track users across apps and websites. All data used for advertising purposes is disassociated from personal identifiers, and Apple Advertising operates on the basis of de-identified data.”
The suit accuses Apple of deceiving users into believing that their data is protected by turning off “Allow Apps to Request to Track” when it actually collects and exploits data, including browsing history, communications and personal identifiers. It points to a statement from Chief Executive Tim Cook saying, “Privacy is a fundamental right and we build it into all products and services at Apple. You should be in control of your data — not the highest bidder,” and an ad that states, “It’s your data. iPhone helps keep it that way.”
“Apple knows that such assurances and promises regarding consumer user privacy and disabling or termination of such tracking and interception are false and misleading,” reads the complaint, which is embedded below.
Plaintiffs point to a study from security researchers at software company Mysk that allegedly found Apple’s privacy settings didn’t stop the company from collecting data. The App Store, for example, continued to harvest information about real time activity from users on the app in addition to ID numbers, what kind of device was used, the device’s screen resolution, the device’s keyboard language, and how the user was connected to the internet. It also concluded, among other things, that the Stocks app tracked users’ lists of watched stocks, the names of stocks viewed and searched for, as well as news articles users saw. The researchers said Apple collects similar data on Apple Music, Apple TV and Books, among other apps.
“Apple Mobile Device Consumers were, in effect, continuing to be spied upon, all the while, without their consent,” the suit says. “And Apple knew it.”
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