Apple Accused of Unlawfully Disclosing Users’ iTunes Data

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Drawing on public criticism of Apple Inc.’s (Apple) privacy practices, in a class action complaint filed in the Northern District of California on May 24, 2016, several Apple users have accused Apple of selling its customers’ personal information and iTunes listening history to third-parties in an effort to “supplement its revenues and enhance the formidability of its brand[.]”

The named plaintiffs in the proposed class action are Leigh Wheaton, a resident of Rhode Island, and Jean and Trevor Paul, residents of Michigan. Each have alleged that they regularly purchase music from Apple’s iTunes Store and that, unbeknownst to them, Apple was disclosing their and other customers’ personal information, including full names and home addresses, along with genres and titles of music purchased via the iTunes Store, to third-parties, including data aggregators, data miners, data brokers, data appenders, and mobile application developers. The third-parties would often append to this additional information relating to the customers’ gender, age, household income, educational background, and marital status, and resell it to third-parties on the open market. All of the aforementioned disclosure would allegedly be done without the customers’ knowledge or consent.

Notably, as the plaintiffs point out in their complaint, the conduct Apple allegedly engaged in is in stark contrast to Apple’s “pro-consumer positions on issues of data privacy,” as it has portrayed in billboards in Las Vegas, Nevada:

While online media service providers, such as Netflix, have been accused of violating such privacy laws in the past, Apple has been able to overcome previous privacy claims based on the accusers’ failure to establish that they suffered harm. 

Here, each of the plaintiffs allege that, as a result of Apple’s unlawful activity, they are now receiving “unwarranted and harassing junk mailings.” They further allege that they have sustained economic harm in that the disclosure of their personal information deprived them of the “full set of benefits” to which they were entitled in purchasing music through iTunes (i.e., digital music purchases without statutory privacy protections vs. digital music purchases with statutory privacy protections.)

The plaintiffs have sought to certify a proposed class of Rhode Island and Michigan residents whose iTunes listening data Apple allegedly disclosed.  The plaintiffs are seeking all legal and equitable remedies available under Rhode Island’s Video, Audio and Publication Rentals Privacy Act (RIVRPA) and Michigan’s Preservation of Personal Privacy Act (MIPPA). They have also asserted a claim for unjust enrichment, which essentially seeks disgorgement of the profits Apple made from disclosing the plaintiffs’ personal information in violation of RIVRPA and MIPPPA.  Review of the docket reveals Apple has yet to formally respond to the complaint.

Read the complaint referenced here.