Court grants final approval of settlement over BART Watch mobile app

By Gabriel Neves | Feb 7, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California recently granted a motion for final approval of a settlement between a San Francisco commuter who sued the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) for violation of privacy laws regarding collected data from its mobile app.

In a Jan. 28 ruling, U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Corley also granted a motion for attorney's fees in the lawsuit filed by Pamela Moreno against BART.

Moreno sued BART alleging the transit district collected data from commuters who use the service through its mobile app, called BART Watch, violating California’s Cellular Communications Interception Act.

"In 2014, BART, through its police department, partnered with a Massachusetts software company, Elerts, to develop and launch the BART Watch mobile application for Android and IOS smartphones," court filings said. The app was marketed "as a way for the public to quickly and discreetly report suspicious activity directly to BART police by 'sending pictures, text messages, and locations of suspicious people or activities.'"

Even though contact information was not required, some information was still being collected.

"If users provide their contact information, the information is sent with their cellular phones’ unique numeric identifier and a unique clientid is created and associated with the contact information." the filings said. "Even if users do not provide their contact information, their cellular phones’ unique numeric identifier is transmitted with the other tracking data. Although the app requests permission to access user’s location information, it does not require their consent to collect and transmit this information.".

Moreno downloaded the app in 2016 onto her smartphone, the filings said..

"When she first downloaded the app she was not aware that the app was designed to (and actually did) collect her smartphone’s unique identifier and physical location and then transmit that information to defendants. Plaintiff would not have downloaded the app or consented to collection and transmission of this information had she known," the ruling said.

As part of the settlement, BART committed to obtain and collect only certain data as well as to make efforts not retain geolocation information for more than three years.

The parties also agreed to pay fees of up to $57,500 as well as an incentive fee of up to $2,500.

"The court finds this amount reasonable in light of Ms. Moreno’s active role in this litigation, her willingness to take on representing the interests of the class, the fact that the settlement provides significant injunctive relief while preserving class members’ damages claims, and because the incentive award will not reduce class recovery in this injunctive relief only settlement," the ruling said.

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