A California federal court judge has tossed a class action accusing Apple of making deceptive promises about the privacy afforded to users of iPhones and iPads.

According to the third complaint in the consolidated multidistrict litigation, Apple violated its privacy policy by sharing the unique identifiers found on consumers’ devices with third parties such as app developers and affiliates. The defendant also collected and exchanged geolocation information even when the “Location Services” setting was turned off, the plaintiffs alleged.

The plaintiffs claimed they relied upon Apple’s representations about privacy and data collection when purchasing their phones and did not consent to having their information shared with third parties.

But none of the four putative class members established that they “read or relied on any particular Apple misrepresentation regarding privacy” prior to their purchase of the products, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy H. Koh wrote. “The Court questions how one can act in reliance on a statement one does not see, read, or hear.” Judge Koh ruled that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing as well as standing under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law.

The plaintiffs needed to “have seen the misrepresentations and taken some action based on what they saw – that is, plaintiffs must have actually relied on the misrepresentations to have been harmed by them,” the court said. “The evidentiary record is devoid of ‘specific facts’ to support plaintiffs’ assertions. Critically, none of the plaintiffs presents evidence that he or she even saw, let alone read and relied upon, the alleged misrepresentations.”

Reviewing the plaintiffs’ depositions, the court said they could not recall having read Apple’s Privacy Policy or the App Store Terms and Conditions – or “expressly disavowed” having read such documents prior to purchase.

Subsequently created declarations from the plaintiffs “each allude to a vague ‘understanding’” regarding the promises made in Apple’s privacy policy, Judge Koh said, but fail to provide “any evidence whatsoever concerning the basis for this understanding.”

The court reached a similar conclusion about the geolocation claims, as the plaintiffs again failed to present “any evidence that he or she read or relied upon any alleged misrepresentations related to Location Services.”

Given the plaintiffs’ “repeated failure to provide any evidence to support the theory that they must have read or seen the alleged misrepresentations,” the court granted summary judgment to Apple.

To read the order in In re iPhone Application Litigation, click here.

Why it matters: In addition to scoring a victory for Apple, Judge Koh’s decision provides valuable language for other defendants facing false advertising class actions where reliance on a defendant’s statements is at issue. Consumers must establish that they actually read a privacy policy, for example, actually relied upon it such that the misrepresentations “played a substantial part” in the decision to purchase the product, and suffered economic injury as a result, the court said. Judge Koh refused to infer reliance simply from the fact that the plaintiffs had iTunes accounts with Apple and therefore had to agree to the terms and conditions and privacy policy at some point. “The mere fact that plaintiffs had to scroll through a screen and click on a box stating that they agreed with the Apple Privacy Policy . . . does not establish, standing alone, that plaintiffs actually read the alleged misrepresentations contained in that Privacy Policy, let alone that these misrepresentations subsequently formed the basis for Plaintiffs’ ‘understanding’ regarding Apple’s privacy policy.”