A US judge has approved a limited class action against Apple for breach of contract following allegations it used third-party servers including “cloud storage facilities belonging to Amazon, Microsoft, or Google” to host customers’ data instead of its own premium iCloud service.
The case – which has been running since 2019 – was brought by Andrea Williams from Florida and California resident James Stewart, according to court papers published last week [PDF].
The pair sued Apple for “breach of contract”, claiming they had paid Apple for iCloud storage above the 5GB of data that is offered for free. They cited the agreed Terms of Service, stating: “When iCloud is enabled, your content will be automatically sent to and stored by Apple.”
What appears to lie at the heart of the case is the allegation that “Apple failed to inform Williams and Stewart that their data was being stored on ‘non-Apple remote servers and facilities’ despite alleged assurances to the contrary”, as well as upset over allegedly being charged a “price premium” that they claim “harmed” class members “who would have otherwise utilized… cheaper cloud storage alternatives.”
According to northern California District Judge Lucy Koh’s order:
“According to the [complaint]… Apple lacked the facilities needed to readily provide the cloud storage space being sold to class members through iCloud.”
An amended complaint filed on April 27, 2020, cited an internal presentation on Apple’s first in-house iCloud servers (codenamed “Project McQueen”), which according to court docs “discusse[d] the ‘dual writing’ of iCloud data on both McQueen servers and Amazon’s S3.”
It also cited a slide from another undated internal Apple presentation allegedly “show[ing] the percentage of total storage on and daily uploads to third-party servers. The other slide graph[ed], over time, iCloud storage across five different storage providers — of which ‘Apple’ is only one source.”
Apple had previously retorted in its response to the amended complaint that the plaintiffs lacked “proof that every member of the class had their iCloud data placed on third-party servers during the Damages Class Period [i.e., September 16, 2015 until October 31, 2018].”
Lawyers for Apple also argued the plaintiffs lacked proof that could “determine which US paid iCloud subscribers may have had some data stored historically on third-party servers.”
Judge Koh denied the motion for a separate injunctive relief class certification that would have forced Apple to make changes to its iCloud terms of service.
She also added that presentations showing “as of approximately March 2019, Apple stored about 40 per cent of all iCloud data on Apple servers” suggested “a substantial percentage of class members did not have their iCloud data stored on third-party servers.”
The court certified the class to all persons in the United States who paid for a subscription to iCloud at any time during the period September 16, 2015 to January 31, 2016, with Judge Koh finding the plaintiffs lacked “common proof of outsourcing” after January 2016.
The Reg has asked Apple for comment. ®