San Francisco’s mass transit organization crashed into a class action in which the plaintiff alleged that its mobile app has been illegally collecting personal information from users.
The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District released an app in 2014, with the goal of providing riders with updates on the transit system as well as “a quick and discreet option” to alert security personnel and the police about safety concerns. But BART Watch also engaged in the “clandestine collection” of user data, including the “near constant” ability to locate a specific cellular device, according to a new California federal court complaint. The suit also names the app’s developer, ELERTS Corp.
Despite the app’s promise that users can make “discreet” or anonymous reports, the defendants still collect and transmit identifying information to their servers, including location information, without the consent of the users. Therefore, “these reports are not anonymous at all,” plaintiff Pamela Moreno alleged.
As a result, the unique mobile device identification numbers and geolocation of tens of thousands of California residents have been secretly collected by the government so they could be matched with other information to create “a trove of data,” the complaint stated. The actions of the defendant are “precisely the practice” the state legislature sought to protect against when it recently enacted the Cellular Communications Interception Act.
For the alleged violations of the CCIA, the Consumer Legal Remedies Act and the state constitution’s guarantee of privacy, the suit seeks to certify a class of consumers who downloaded the BART Watch app, requests a halt to the collection and transmission of user information, demands the purge of all records previously collected, and requests an award of monetary damages, including punitive and statutory damages of no less than $2,500.
To read the complaint in Moreno v. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, click here.
Why it matters: The privacy violations alleged in the putative class action made headlines, but a spokeswoman for the agency said data is recorded only when users report a crime and if they have agreed to share the information. “BART does not use ELERTS system to randomly track users,” Alicia Trost said in a statement. “An app’s user location information is only available if the user selects the option to share their location information. And then, BART only receives the user’s location when the user is reporting an incident. For all users, sharing their contact information and location information is optional.”