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Google accused of sharing user data with app developers

Several Android users filed a class-action lawsuit last week claiming that Google accessed their personal information without consent and disclosed this data to Android application developers who, in turn, shared the data with ad networks and Web analytics vendors.

The suit alleges the plaintiffs were victims of privacy violations and unfair business practices that affected their financial interests in addition to their privacy and security rights.

?The suit is in uncharted territory,? said Michael B. Hazzard, a partner at law firm Arent Fox LLP, Washington.

?It may be that the consumers agreed (by click through, or otherwise) to let Google have and use the data at issue,? he said.

Consumers may have also agreed to have these kinds of claims resolved through arbitration rather than federal court, which the Supreme Court upheld in a recent decision.

?This is certainly one to watch,? Mr. Hazzard said. 

Were device ID numbers shared?
At issue is the unique identifier numbers associated with every mobile phone. The suit alleges that Google stored data tracked to these numbers without the plaintiffs? consent and that there was no way to turn off this feature.

The information Google, app developers and their affiliates were able to gather as a result included what applications were downloaded by users, what they viewed, read and bought as well as details about their financial and health conditions.

?The nature of this action includes a sequence of events and consequences wherein application developers and application developers? affiliates gained individually and in concert with defendant Google, unauthorized access to, transmittal of, and use of data, which included but was not limited to, the plaintiffs? and class members? UDIDs, obtained from the plaintiffs? and class members? mobile devices,? the claim states.

Google declined to comment for this story.

The suit comes on the heels of another class-action lawsuit brought two weeks ago against Google that claims Android phone users were unaware that Google was tracking their locations and did not knowingly consent to the tracking.

Both complaints come in the wake of the release of several reports that clearly laid out the extent of both Google and Apple?s mobile data collection.

The reports showed that Android phones, iPads and iPhones are keeping precise track of users? whereabouts while Apple devices are also storing location-based data about customers for a significant period of time and not storing it as securely as many would like.

Targeted ads raised
?Issues come up all the time as technologists and users discover more about how their devices are working,? said Jonathan Ezor, special counsel to The Lustigman Firm, New York. ?It isn?t that Google or Apple is hiding it, but that people either don?t know or don?t realize how their devices work.?

These problems also arise because vendors are not doing a good enough of explaining how their devices and services work.

?Marketers and technology companies, if they want to avoid legislation, need to do a better job of explaining what they are doing,? Mr. Ezor said.

The fact that consumers are uncomfortable with the data being collected on their mobile phones could trigger new legislation to address the issue.

If that were to happen, any companies built on a business model that relies on identifying device and location information could be in trouble.

?There is a lot of information sharing that has to happen for someone walking down the street to receive a mobile coupon for the store in front of you,? Mr. Ezor said. ?If laws are enacted to address this, however, this business model could go away.?

Click here to read the full complaint.

Final Take
Anroid developers