Blog Post

Lawsuit Says Hacked Address Book Contacts Worth 60 Cents To $3 Each

It can be hard to put a dollar figure on privacy. Unless, that is, you’re suing Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and app makers like Path for uploading address books from smartphones without permission.

The lawyers behind a massive class action suit filed in Austin this week cite a report that claims:

the market value of and per-­contact going rate for the purchase of similar contact information currently ranges from a minimum of around $0.60 per contact up to several dollars per contact.

A footnote says the report is by social acquisition company Pointiflex and that some individual contacts can be worth more than $3.

The numbers matter because the lawyers are accusing more than a dozen app makers — including Hipster, Facebook and Instagram — of unjust enrichment by taking the contacts without permission from millions of smartphone users. (You can read more about the case here).

It’s not clear if the $0.60 – $3 price per contact is an accepted industry figure or simply included for dramatic effect. In an unrelated social media lawsuit, for instance, a publisher raised eyebrows by citing “industry” figures that said every Twitter follower is worth $2.50 per month.

The new lawsuit, which purports to represent smartphone users across the country, also includes figures about how much money the illegal uploads cost in time and money. It claims that the total airtime used for the alleged “hacking” was worth more than $5,000 and referred to one app to say:

Foodspotting has admitted that it takes “a few seconds” to upload each device’s Address Book Data to its own servers. Alone, that figure may at first appear negligible; but aggregated across each Application Developer Defendant’s many millions of users, that figure becomes very large, very quickly (particularly if the App frequently polls and reports back to the App developer’s servers on any updated contents of a user’s address book). For example, just one 3-­??‘ second upload from each user of an App having a one-­??‘million user install-­??‘base amounts to the consumption in the aggregate of roughly 833 hours of wireless airtime.

Finally, here is a chart in which the plaintiffs estimate how many people were using the apps: