Judge Orders Apple to Quit Pussyfooting Around
A U.S. magistrate has ordered Apple to come clean with the production of documents in a possible class action lawsuit charging it violated users' privacy by tracking their movements via iOS. U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal indicated in his order that he didn't trust Apple to voluntarily meet its disclosure obligations, based on Apple's lack of compliance in the case so far.
Mar 11, 2013 11:22 AM PT
A judge gave Apple until the end of last week to produce details about how it would provide documents and other evidence requested in a privacy lawsuit. U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal in San Jose, Calif., issued the order on March 6, following claims from the plaintiffs' lawyers that Apple was withholding documents it had been ordered to produce.
He ordered Apple to submit a detailed account by last Friday describing how it would collect and evaluate the requested documents. Grewal set March 18 as the deadline for Apple to provide unredacted copies of the evidence.
Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
A Gentle Reminder
The order was an ignominious development for Apple, reminding the public about a case that it no doubt would prefer to make its way through the legal system as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
The complaint accuses Apple of allowing third parties to collect information about users via its iOS mobile operating system without their consent -- even after the geolocation feature had been turned off.
The suit was filed in 2011 by two Apple product users seeking punitive damages and injunctive relief after research was published detailing the tracking mechanisms within iOS. The suit is seeking class action status.
Apple has apparently been dragging its feet in producing requested documents. The judge noted in his comments that while the accusations of foot-dragging were lodged by the plaintiffs, Apple itself has not helped its cause, with its own counsel admitting in a hearing that it has not produced everything requested.
"In light of Apple's performance in this case, the court cannot rely on its representations that this time it really has or will produce all responsive documents," Grewal wrote. "Apple now must show the court that it has complied with its discovery obligations."
The Expense of Discovery
Having a judge request a party to a lawsuit to detail how it would respond to discovery is an unusual development, but given the magnitude and costs of discovery now, it makes sense, said Peter Toren, partner with Weisbrod Matteis & Copley.
In the end, this event will be viewed a sideshow that had no impact on the outcome of the trial, he predicted, unless Apple should engage in deliberate deception, which is highly unlikely.
"Based on what has been ordered, it appears that Apple has not fulfilled its obligation for discovery and the judge wants to be clear with Apple what it expects Apple to do," Toren told the E-Commerce Times.
In this particular case, the discovery phase could involve potentially millions of documents, making it difficult even for a company of Apple's size to meet its obligations, Toren said.
Apart from the enormity of the task, there may be other reasons for Apple's foot-dragging. Apple has noted in its own arguments that releasing the documents could impinge on user privacy if the information were inadvertently released to the public.
Also, Apple is a company notorious for keeping its corporate operations shielded from the public's prying eyes. Some of the requested documents are emails from Steve Jobs and other senior executives at the company and there has been speculation that their release could cast Apple and its leadership in an unfavorable light.