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Facebook, Apple, others facing class action lawsuit

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Technology, gaming and social media firms, including Facebook, Apple, Twitter and Electronic Arts, are facing a class action lawsuit in the US over the use of people's private data on mobile apps.

Following recent high-profile controversies over privacy policies on mobile apps, 13 plaintiffs have now filed the legal action in the Western Division of the US District Court, Austin Division, against some of the biggest players in the multi-billion dollar apps market.

In the court filing, they list 18 companies in total: Apple, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Path, Angry Birds maker Rovio, social games firm Chillingo, Electronic Arts, Yelp!, Gowalla (now owned by Facebook), Foursquare, Foodspotting, Instagram, Burbn (maker of Instagram), Beluga, Hipster, Zeptolab and Kik Interactive.

The lawsuit - reported in full by TechCrunch - was lodged on Monday, the same day that internet giant Yahoo filed legal papers against Facebook over alleged infringement of ten of its patents.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs have also opted to launch the legal action in the same week as SXSW Interactive in Austin, a major gathering of technology enthusiasts and representatives of the companies targeted.

The strongly-worded, 152-page complaint details the "surreptitious" gathering of information about consumers on mobile apps produced by the companies, along with the need to prevent this from continuing to happen on smartphones and tablets.

Apple is listed because the firm has allowed the alleged information-gathering to occur via its iOS App Store. Google, which operates the app store on Android devices, and online retailer Amazon are also mentioned in the text, but not included as defendants.

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The lawsuit notes that it is "effectively impossible" to develop an app for Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch without getting Apple's consent, and the firm can reject proposed apps or request modifications.

It said: "For example, Apple has rejected Apps for competitive reasons - such as if the third-party App duplicates an Apple App - and occasionally even for moral reasons, with Apple's CEO Steve Jobs having notably said, 'We do believe we have amoral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone... folks who want porn can buy an Android phone'."

Since 2010, Apple's own App Store guidelines have prevented apps from transmitting data about a user without obtaining their "prior permission and providing the user with access to information about how and where the data will be used".

There have been no confirmed scandals as yet of apps using data for anything other than their express function, such as linking users up with their friends, or using the device's location to present a range of specific information.

However, social network Path recently apologised after criticism of the way the firm's mobile app shared data, and pledged to better explain its practices to users in future.

The plaintiffs, most of whom live in Austin, do not indicate the level of damages they are seeking if the case actually goes to court. But the lawyers mention statutory damages that could run into tens of thousands of dollars for each violation found.

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