SAN FRANCISCO — Apple Inc. has beaten back class certification in a long-running lawsuit accusing the company of misleading consumers about the security of the personal information stored on the company’s mobile devices.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar of the Northern District of California found consumers “failed to demonstrate that Apple’s privacy-related marketing was sufficiently extensive to support an inference of class-wide exposure” on their false advertising-related claims. The judge also found the plaintiffs hadn’t demonstrated a feasible way to calculate damages based on their theory of liability.
Tigar has overseen five consolidated lawsuits targeting Apple and a group of app makers with privacy-related claims since 2013. The suits claimed the app makers violated users’ privacy by accessing the contact information stored on their Apple devices. Apple had touted that it isolated—or “sandboxed”—the data available inside any given app from other apps. The company also advertised that its App Store was curated so that only apps that met certain privacy standards were allowed on its devices.
Plaintiffs previously netted a $5.3 million settlement with eight app makers, including Twitter Inc., Instagram LLC and Yelp Inc. That settlement came after Tigar partially granted a motion to certify a class in July 2016 on invasion of privacy claims against photo-sharing app maker Path Inc., as well as a state law aiding-and-abetting claim against Apple.
In Tuesday’s ruling, Tigar found that “while class members may have been exposed to Apple’s advertising generally, plaintiffs have not shown that class members saw, heard, or relied upon representations about the specific security features— sandboxing and the curated App Store—at issue in the case.” The judge also found Apple’s advertising campaign touting the security of its mobile devices wasn’t the sort of long-term, extensive effort needed to establish consumer reliance, which was the case with tobacco industry ads dismissing the health risks of smoking. Tigar also found the plaintiffs’ damages expert attempted to measure how consumers valued security in Apple devices broadly, rather than focusing on the sandboxing and curating features at issue in the case.
Michael von Loewenfeldt, a partner in Kerr & Wagstaffe, said he was disappointed with the decision and considering next steps.
Apple’s lawyer, Robert Hawk at Hogan Lovells, didn’t immediately respond to messages Wednesday.
Ross Todd is bureau chief of The Recorder in San Francisco. He writes about litigation in the Bay Area and around California. Contact Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @Ross_Todd.