Apple is facing a proposed class-action lawsuit that accuses it of violating user privacy by tracking, collecting, and monetizing the personal data of iPhone users, even when the iPhone Analytics setting is turned off.
The lawsuit comes days later after Gizmodo published a report on Apple’s App Store data collection based on the research by two independent security researchers, Tommy Mysk and Talal Haj Bakry, at the software company Mysk, in November.
The findings by the researchers expose how Apple’s own apps — including the App Store Apple Music, Apple TV, Books, and Stocks — collect data about users’ interactions with apps, even when they have not agreed to share analytics information with the Cupertino giant.
In the video Mysk posted to Twitter, the tests carried out by the researchers show that turning the iPhone Analytics setting off had no obvious effect on Apple’s data collection nor did any of the iPhone’s other built-in settings, as the tracking remained the same whether iPhone Analytics was switched on or off.
Elliot Libman, who is the plaintiff in the complaint hopes that the case will become a class action lawsuit against Apple. Case number 5:2022cv07069 was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on November 10, 2022.
In the lawsuit, Libman cites research by the Mysk app developers and accuses Apple of violating the California Invasion of Privacy Act, including the one that prohibits the unauthorized recording of confidential communications.
It further says that Apple assures users that they are in control of what information they share when it comes to mobile app activity, but those assurances and promises regarding privacy are “utterly false.”
“Privacy is one of the main issues that Apple uses to set its products apart from competitors,” plaintiff Libman says in the lawsuit. “But Apple’s privacy guarantees are completely illusory.”
Interestingly, Apple’s iPhone and iPad Analytics settings make an explicit promise that if “Allow Apps to Request to Track” and/or “Share [Device] Analytics” settings are turned off, the tech giant will stop collecting and recording all of their app information or activity.
However, even after disabling these options, the company continues to collect, track, and monetize its data, which is contrary to Apple’s own narrative of how privacy protection works.
“Apple records, tracks, collects and monetizes analytics data — including browsing history and activity information — regardless of what safeguards or “privacy settings” consumers undertake to protect their privacy,” claims the lawsuit.
“Even when consumers follow Apple’s own instructions and turn off ‘Allow Apps to Request to Track’ and/or ‘Share [Device] Analytics’ on their privacy controls, Apple nevertheless continues to record consumers’ app usage, app browsing communications, and personal information in its proprietary Apple apps, including the App Store, Apple Music, Apple TV, Books, and Stocks.
The lawsuit cites “allow apps to request tracking” and “share analytics” settings as their main issues with Apple.
“Apple’s practices violate consumer privacy; deliberately mislead consumers; give Apple and its employees the ability to learn deep information about people’s lives, interests, and application usage; and make Apple a potential victim of “one-stop shopping” is any government, private actor, or criminal that seeks to undermine the privacy, security, or freedom of individuals,” the lawsuit further says.
For example, Apple’s “App Store” app harvests information about every action users take while using the app in real time, including what users tapped on, which apps users search for, what ads users see, and how long users looked at a given app and how users found it.
Mysk’s tests on the App Store found out that the app sends details to Apple about users and their devices as well, including ID numbers, what kind of phone they are using, their screen resolution, their keyboard languages, and how you are connected to the internet — notably, the kind of information commonly used for device fingerprinting.
“Through its pervasive and illegal business of tracking and data collection, Apple knows even the most intimate and potentially embarrassing aspects of a user’s app usage — regardless of whether the user accepts Apple’s false promise to keep such activities private,” it added.
The lawsuit seeks “restitution and all other forms of equitable monetary relief,” and for injunctive relief, as the Court may deem proper. It has also demanded a jury trial.
Apple hasn’t yet commented on the matter. As of now, there is no hearing date for the case and also no clarity if it will be heard.