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Smartphone users sue Apple, Facebook over mobile app privacy

18 social media firms slapped with lawsuit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Apple, Foursquare and 13 other prominent social media firms have been hit with a lawsuit accusing them of supplying mobile applications that invade users' privacy.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by 13 private individuals in Austin, Texas – where geek tech fest SXSW has just shut up shop. The suit accuses 18 companies of harvesting the address books of millions of smartphone users without their knowledge or informed consent.

"The defendants - several of the world's largest and most influential technology and social networking companies – have unfortunately made, distributed and sold mobile software applications that, once installed on a wireless mobile device, surreptitiously harvest, upload and illegally steal the owner's address book data without the owner's knowledge or consent," the lawsuit alleges, PC World reports.

The people behind the lawsuit are seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting such data collection and the destruction of data previously gathered. Those behind the lawsuit describe themselves as users of Apple's iPhone as well as Android-based smartphones.

The lawsuit comes against the backdrop of growing concerns about the handling of sensitive information on mobile phones. At the beginning of February it was discovered that social media iPhone apps from Path and Hipster were uploading user address book information without seeking the consent of smartphone users. Path apologised and promised to mend its ways. Days later, Twitter came under fire for failing to explain that its "Find Friends" service accessed users' smartphone address books.

Democrat Senator Charles Schumer was prompted to write to consumer watchdogs at the FTC calling for action after the location-finding services on smartphones were also granted permission to siphon off users' photos on both iPhones and Android devices.

Smartphone security boffin Graham Lee recently told The Reg that the app development industry might not be able to retain existing business models – thus forcing up prices – should a crackdown take place on the practice of info-slurping in exchange for targeted ad bucks. ®

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