Apple has been named in a new class action lawsuit being brought against several companies who have used the controversial CarrierIQ software, including four hardware makers—Apple, Samsung, HTC, and Motorola—and three U.S. carriers—T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T. The suit alleges an “unprecedented breach of trust” and violations of several federal laws.
The suit is the product of three law firms, Sianni & Straite of Wilmington of Delaware, Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow & McElroy of Edison of New Jersey, and Keefe Bartels of Red Bank, also of New Jersey. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Delaware.
According to a statement released by the law firms, the suit is a reaction to, “the unprecedented breach of the digital privacy rights of 150 million cell phone users.” Despite the noble wording, we should point out that CarrierIQ’s own bragging board claims only 141 million (and change) devices, somewhat short of the 150 million claim in the lawsuit.
The complaint asserts that the defendants violated the Federal Wiretap Act, the Stored Electronic Communications Act, and the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
CarrierIQ is software that allows hardware makers and/or carriers to log various activities smartphone users engage in on their mobile devices. It entered the limelight last week in the wake of a security researcher’s report that showed the software logging and possibly transmitting every button push, keystrokes, messages, and GPS data.
He also demonstrated that the software was hidden from the list of running apps available in Android, that it couldn’t be stopped, that the software logged data that was denied to other apps, and that it even logged search terms sent over a secured connection.
CarrierIQ itself denied that its software did many of the things the security demonstrated in a video posted to YouTube, and there has been much pointing of fingers, corporate denials, and other efforts from some of the companies named in this suit to deny any role in the software being present on specific device or to deny some of the specifics in what kind of data was being collected, who controlled it, and whether or not it was being transmitted, and to whom.
Apple itself said that it had stopped using CarrierIQ with iOS 5, and that it would remove any reference to the software in a future iOS update. The company also said that its use of CarrierIQ has always been opt-in, and that it did not use the software to log, “keystrokes, messages or any other personal information for diagnostic data and have no plans to ever do so.”
Liberty & Idealism?
Two attorneys involved in the class action issued interesting quotes for the suit’s announcement. The first came from David Straite of Sianni & Straighte, who said, “This latest revelation of corporate America’s brazen disregard for the digital privacy rights of its customers is yet another example of the escalating erosion of liberty in this country. We are hopeful that the courts will allow ordinary customers the opportunity to remedy this outrageous breach.”
This differs from some of the “erosion of liberty” rhetoric that has arisen in the last few years in that it is aimed at corporate America, rather than “government.” Of course, it’s just a quote in an announcement for a class action law suit—an area of the legal system not generally known for its idealism, and it remains to be seen how committed to personal liberty the the litigants truly are.
The second quote is from Steve Grygiel, co-counsel for the proposed class, who said, “Anyone who cares at all about their personal privacy, or the broader constitutional right to privacy, ought to care and care a great deal about this case.”