Kamala Harris' Lawsuit Against Delta Could Change Privacy Policies for Apps

Categories: Lawsuit, Tech

#FirstWorldProblems
Last week, California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit against Delta Airlines, claiming that the company's smartphone app violates state law because it does not have a privacy policy. It is somewhat of a landmark legal action: the first time an app maker has faced a privacy suit.

It is also an example of what happens when technology outpaces legislation. The California Online Privacy Protection Act requires that "an operator of a commercial website or online service that collects personally identifiable information through the Internet about individual consumers ... shall conspicuously post its privacy policy on its Web site." The legislation was enacted in 2004 -- so nowhere do the words "mobile," "smartphone," "app," or "application" appear.

Harris argues that "the term 'online services' covers any service available over the Internet," including "mobile applications."

"Fly Delta," like most apps, lets users do on a phone what they would otherwise do on a computer: check in for a flight, track baggage, rebook a cancelled flight, access a frequent flyer account, etc. Which means it absorbs the same type of information a person would type into a computer.

"Despite collecting substantial personally identifiable information ... such as a user's full name, telephone number, email address, frequent flyer account number and PIN code, photographs, and geo-location, the Fly Delta application does not have a privacy policy," the lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, states. "Users of the Fly Delta application do not know what personally identifiable information Delta collects about them, how Delta uses that information, or to whom that information is shared, disclosed, or sold."

Harris has been putting in work on the online privacy front since moving to Sacramento. Some background from the Wall Street Journal:

Even as privacy policies on websites have become commonplace, many of the most-downloaded mobile apps don't have them. In February, Ms. Harris reached an agreement with six of the largest companies in the mobile-device market to help enforce the state's privacy laws, and set up a team on her staff to investigate digital privacy offenses.

In October, the attorney general's office sent letters to some 100 app makers, including Delta, that didn't incorporate privacy policies, giving them 30 days to respond or make their privacy policies accessible in their apps. At the time, Delta told several media outlets that it had received the letter and intended to respond.

The lawsuit has the potential to change the way app makers handle privacy regulations. If the judge (and possible appellate judges) agree that apps count as "online services," then we're going to have a lot more Terms & Conditions to ignore.

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