Apple can easily shrug off any financial damages resulting from the thousands of privacy-violation lawsuits it's likely to face in Korea, but the public relations fallout is another story. The company has attempted to reassure iPhone users that it does not spy on their movements, but suspicions are rampant. "Apple's once-pristine reputation has been sullied by this," said Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson.
Kim Hyung-suk, an attorney in South Korea, is on a mission. He wants to get as many people as possible to sue Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) — mounting the country's version of a class action lawsuit — for collecting iPhone location data of its user for more than a year.
Kim has already been awarded one million won (roughly US$940) from Apple as directed by the Korean regulatory agency. His mission now is to multiply that amount by as many thousands of people as possible to teach Apple a lesson, The Guardian reported, because South Korea's legal system does not make the same high-level awards as the U.S. does.
Indeed, the Korea Communications Commission rebuked Apple for the same issue several weeks before Kim won his lawsuit, slapping it with a laughable $3,000 fine.
Kim has set up a website to collect signatures. So far, some 27,000 have signed on, according to news reports.
Apple did not respond to MacNewsWorld's request for comment in time for publication.
'Just a Bug'
This issue, of course, is hardly confined to South Korea. In April of this year, two researchers made global headlines with their discovery that Apple's iPhone was able to keep track of where its users went and then timestamp those movements. In fact, it had been doing so for the greater part of a year, storing the data.
The outcry was especially intense in the U.S., where Congress eventually held hearings on the subject of mobile tracking.
Apple, for its part, has had an explanation for everything.
That tracking? There was no tracking going on, it said.
The logging of users' locations? Again, the iPhone was not logging location data, Apple soothingly explained in a FAQ it released shortly after the discovery. "Rather, it's maintaining a database of WiFi hotspots and cell towers … to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested."
The year's worth of data? That data is not the iPhone's location data, Apple said. Rather, it is a cache of the crowd-sourced WiFi hotspot and cell tower database downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone.
"The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly," it promised. Count Rob Walch, host of Today in iOS, among the people who find Apple's explanations perfectly plausible — and the lawsuits as junk legal practice.
"I don't see how the data harmed anyone," he told MacNewsWorld. "It was just as they explained — it was data from cell and WiFi sites in the general area of the user — and even then it was generalized on a grid."
Walch looked up his own user data, and found nothing alarming — or particularly accurate. "One point had me in the middle of the Long Island airport runway," he said.
Kim, the lawyer in South Korea, clearly does not agree. Nor do privacy advocates.
"From everything that has been learned about smartphones now, they really should be called 'spyphones,'" John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project, told MacNewsWorld.
"People simply weren't aware of the vast amount of tracking that goes on with these devices. I think they are still trying to absorb exactly how much these companies have on their users," he said.
None of this is doing Apple any good, Simpson added — nor are its explanations entirely satisfying.
"Apple's once-pristine reputation has been sullied by this," he said, "and I don't see how it can recover."