Late last year, a federal court approved a suit against Apple for its handling of an iMessage bug that affected users who switched from an iPhone to an Android phone. The disgruntled customers found that they didn’t receive messages from iPhone users after they got their new Android phones.
It’s been nearly nine months since then, and two interesting companies have joined the party: AT&T and Google. It’s not clear what the motives are of either company, but both filed motions with the federal court. The early consensus is that both companies want to get a look at some of Apple’s internal communications regarding how the company handled fixing the problem that spanned over three years.
The suit emerged after many consumers, who switched from an iPhone to an Android phone and kept the same phone number, could not receive text messages from iPhone users. The issue was a fallacy in Apple’s iMessage cloud messaging app that wouldn’t allow it to deliver text messages to a phone number no longer connected to Apple’s iCloud service. Consumers were forced to jump through hoops to remove their phone numbers from iCloud.
The complaint is not only for the inconvenience, but it’s more about the fact that Apple didn’t notify users that they would not be able to receive text messages from other iPhone users if they switched to another platform. More importantly, since these messages were never delivered, the plaintiffs feel that the text messages were “illegally intercepted and interned by Apple.” In other words, the messages were held by Apple indefinitely and never delivered. This could count as “unauthorized access” and a violation of both the Stored Communications Act and the Federal Wiretap Act.
Apple obviously denies the claims and contends it did not maliciously hold the text messages, nor did the company spy on them. The problem has been since rectified, but it took more than three years to fix.
AT&T and Google peek at secret court documents
What’s interesting about this case is that Apple was granted permission to keep the litigation in secrecy, so the majority of court documents will never be seen by the public. The emergence of AT&T and Google in this case is likely to open some access to these documents, but it’s also possible that it could result in further cases against Apple.
AT&T and Google might be looking for evidence that suggests Apple maliciously took its time to fix the problem.
AT&T claims that many customers returned Android phones after switching from an iPhone because they weren’t getting all their text messages. So AT&T had to deal with irate customers for something that was not in the company’s control. Those returns were most likely either at a cost to AT&T or sent back to the manufacturers at a cost to them.
The bottom line is that both AT&T and Google might be looking for evidence that suggests Apple maliciously took its time to rectify the situation, which in turn hurt sales for AT&T, as well as for Google and it’s Android manufacturers.
The potential outcome
If there is a silver lining for Apple, it’s the fact that U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled recently that the case could not proceed as a class action suit. This means that if Apple were to lose, the company would only be responsible for damages to the original plaintiff, Adrienne Moore. If it were allowed to move forward as a class action suit, more people could participate, which would raise the cost of damages significantly. However, this ruling doesn’t stop AT&T, Google, or anyone else from filing a separate suit.
We will have to keep an eye on this one, as it is sure to get very interesting.
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