Apple on hook for $25 million damages in South Korea

August 18, 2011

Apple on hook for $25 million damages in South KoreaThe dispute over Apple’s “tracking software” on iPhones and iPads could be costly in the company loses a case in South Korea. It would follow on from a puny fine by local regulators.

The case involves the revelation that Apple’s portable devices collected data about the location of the device by default. While it appeared to be a case of bad communication rather than sinister motives, it did attract the interest of politicians and regulators.

In South Korea that led to an order to encrypt the location data. There was also a fine for having continued to track movements even when users had specifically switched the feature off. However, the transgression cost Apple just three million won, which is equivalent to around US$2,800.

The company also lost a lawsuit to a Seoul attorney named Kim Hyung-Suk over the affair, which netted him one million won, or around $930. While that might not seem much of a result for a lawyer, it could prove a costly loss for Apple. Hyung-Suk has since set up an appeal for others to join a class action case (at the starkly titled sueapple.co.kr) and has now gathered together 27,000 plaintiffs.

If that leads to a court victory with a similar level of damages to Hyung-Suk’s own case, Apple’s looking at a $25 million payout. Admittedly that’s little more than a rounding error for the world’s most valuable company, but as the old saying sort of goes, look after the millions and the billions will take care of themselves.

The real danger for Apple is that settling the case in Korea might, while not being a formal and binding legal precedent, encourage similar cases in other countries and even make them more likely to find favor with courts. For that reason Apple may be tempted to drag out the Korean case as long as possible.

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