Feds Subpoena Pandora, Others on App Information Gathering

Shhhhh...A federal grand jury has subpoenaed Pandora and other app makers on Apple’s iOS platform and Google’s Android platform looking for information on the manner in which those apps collect information about the user. The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors are investigating whether some smartphone apps are illegally gathering and transmitting that information to the developers or publishers of those apps.

According to the report, investigators want to know if apps fully describe how information is gathered, what information is gathered, why the information is needed, and the fact that it is being sent to app makers. Doing so without proper notification to the user could violate an existing federal law covering computer fraud.

Anthony Campiti, creator of the Pumpkin Maker iPhone app, went on record with The Journal stating that the investigation was at the stage where prosecutors want to “get a better understanding [of the industry,” and that none of the app makers were doing anything wrong.

In an SEC filing, Pandora acknowledged that it had been served with a subpoena from a grand jury, “[that] we believe was convened to investigate the information sharing processes of certain popular applications that run on the Apple and Android mobile platforms.”

The company wrote that it had been, “informed that we are not a specific target of the investigation,” and that similar subpoenas were being served on other companies.

The Journal also cited a source “familiar with the matter” that said Apple and Google have been asked by the Feds to provide information about both apps that are available on their respective online app stores (with apologies to Apple’s would-be trademark efforts) and the makers of those apps. Neither company would confirm that or offer comment on the issue.

The Journal offered a hodgepodge of comments from various legal experts that said companies are seldom charged with criminal violations in regards to this federal law, and that individual employees are also seldom targeted. If there is a violation, however, it could result in various an sundry civil cases being launched, and at the very least could lead to some changes in the business practices of some companies.

Be that as it may, we should stress that the bit about prosecutors simply looking for more information about the industry in order to better understand this very new industry. No one and no company has been accused of any wrongdoing.

[Images courtesy iStockphoto, Apple]