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Facebook, Twitter, 16 Others Sued for Alleged Privacy Issues

The ease at which companies gather consumer data is coming under increasingly hostile examination, and the latest salvo in the war over consumer privacy comes in the form of a lawsuit filed by 13 people in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas (5th District) which alleges that 18 companies have distributed privacy-violating applications to their customers. The suit aims to compel each company to destroy all collected data, and would impose a permanent injunction against the future collection of such information. The lawsuit names Path, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Beluga, Yelp, Burbn, Instagram, Foursquare Labs, Gowalla (now out of business), Foodspotting, Hipster, LinkedIn, Rovio Mobile, ZeptoLab, Chillingo, Electronics Arts, and Kik Interactive.

Many of these companies have separately come under fire for their data collection practices, though this is the first time they have all been sued as a group. For example, Electronic Arts has also been criticized for their Origin online service, though that has now been eclipsed by outrage over the end of Mass Effect 3; thankfully, that ending only asks for DLC, and doesn't steal player data. Apple has come under increasing scrutiny for everything from their workplace practices to internal corporate culture, but in February, Democratic Congressional Representative Henry Waxman demanded that Apple provide information on how its app store vendors collect data. And Facebook became the poster child for quasi-ethical data collection practices in 2011. In December, Mark Zuckerberg issued something that resembles a public apology after the social media giant reached an agreement with the FCC that, among other things, requires them to ask customers to opt-in instead of opt-out of data collection.

However, the suit seems directly inspired by the recent exposure of San Francisco-based social network Path's practice of uploading their users entire iPhone directories without permission.  That practice was revealed by a programmer in Singapore, but gained nationwide notoriety thanks to a recent New York Times piece tearing such practices apart that specifically singled Path out. In the wake of the PR nightmare that ensued, Path issued a public apology for the practice and vowed to stop. The New York Times article is cited several times in the filing.

The full filing can be reviewed here.