Companies that make their money in the mobile computing space – application developers, device manufacturers, software adaptors – have a new worry. Many functions and applications used on iPhone devices currently rely on reporting that includes the UDID unique device identifier. Two new lawsuits against Apple for its use of UDID information may change the way that mobile functions and applications are built, managed and paid for.

The UDID for the iPhone is a 40 character identifier that is set by Apple and stays with the specific defined device forever. Its function is to uniquely identify any one iPhone, allowing the UDID to be connected with the name and behaviors of that iPhone’s user.

The Wall Street Journal may have started the snowball of lawsuits rolling in its ongoing series of articles about how the computer industry tracks people using the internet. The Journal’s investigation examined 101 popular smartphone applications (“Apps”) and found that 56 of them sent the UDID for their smart phones to other companies without the user’s awareness or consent. Five of the Apps transmitted personal details of the user like age and gender.

Because each UDID is specific to each iPhone, it cannot be shut down or suppressed by users in the way that cookies may be deleted on laptop or desktop computers. The suits against Apple complain that releasing this information without the user’s consent or knowledge violates a number of U.S. federal and state laws including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

The complaint in one of the lawsuits stated: “Apple’s privacy policy is opaque and confusing, but one thing is clear: it does not inform mobile device users that by providing application developers with their UDID, Apple enables them to put a name to highly personal and in many cases, embarrassing information, derived from app downloading activity and usage, and Internet browsing history, that would otherwise be anonymous.”

Womble Carlyle will be following these and other mobile privacy cases closely and will keep you informed as the courts make decisions that could affect the business models for mobile computing.