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Backdoor in top iPhone games stole user data, suit claims

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A maker of some of the most popular games for the iPhone has been surreptitiously collecting users' cell numbers without their permission, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The complaint claims best-selling games made by Storm8 contained secret code that bypassed safeguards built into the iPhone to prevent the unauthorized snooping of user information. The Redwood City, California, company, which claims its games have been downloaded more than 20 million times, has no need to collect the numbers.

"Nonetheless, Storm8 makes use of the 'backdoor' method to access, collect, and transmit the wireless phone numbers of the iPhones on which its games are installed," states the complaint, which was filed in US District Court in Northern California. "Storm8 does so or has done so in all of its games."

Messages left for Storm8 representatives weren't returned.

The complaint, filed on behalf of iPhone owner and gamer Michael Turner of Lynnwood, Washington, seeks class action status so other users of Storm8 games can also join. It claims that as of Monday, five of the companies games ranked in the top 50 free apps on Apple's App Store, and seven of them ranked in the top 100. Titles include World War, iMobsters, Racing Live, Vampires Live, Kingdoms Live, Zombies Live, and Rockstars Live.

The complaint claims Storm8 has violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Calfornia's computer crime law, among other statutes.

It's not the first time Storm8 has been accused of spying on its users. In August, SFGate.com writer Yobi Benjamin analyzed precisely what information his iPhone was sending to Storm8 and dropped it into this column.

"I would not want just anyone to have my personal phone number," he wrote. "Worst of all, the information is transmitted unencrypted in plain text."

Other sites have made similar claims about Storm8 titles. In addition to taking the game maker to task, some critics have also blamed Apple for allowing the software to be sold in its heavily controlled App Store. (Storm8 titles such as iMobster continue to be available there.)

Storm8 responded by acknowledging it had been collected user phone numbers and blamed the situation on "a bug that has been fixed."

Attorneys for the plaintiff aren't buying that.

"Storm8's characterizations of its practice of harvesting phone numbers as a 'bug' and an 'oversight' are false," they wrote. "Storm8 could not have accidentally harvested its users' phone numbers - it used very specific and specialized software code to do so." ®

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