In Dismissal Motion, Apple Denies Responsibility for Predatory Acts Committed via Chat Apps

A motion to dismiss filed on Monday by Apple Inc. claims that the tech giant, along with co-defendants Snap Inc. and Google, cannot be held liable for crimes committed by predators using online message apps downloaded via the App Store.

The motion recalls the events giving rise to the amended complaint, starting with the three minors meeting criminal perpetrators on popular messaging apps distributed and sold through Apple’s App Store. Perpetrators also allegedly distributed obscene materials of the minors using Chitter, a foreign-operated content-sharing app that allows users to exchange photos, videos, and messages anonymously.

The complaint attributed the exploitation to Apple, explaining that it enabled, recommended, and steered users, partly using an “algorithmic recommendation tool and data aggregation/analytics system” to “inherently dangerous apps” like Snapchat and Chitter. Further, it faulted Apple for claiming to police apps for misconduct or bad behavior, but not living up to that promise.

The plaintiffs sought relief from product liability, negligence, and consumer protection law causes of action.

In this week’s response, Apple notes that some perpetrators have already been convicted of their crimes in separate criminal proceedings. Yet of the present civil suit, Apple says that it is “not legally responsible for every bad act of a third party who transmits illicit content to other third parties using an app created by yet another third party merely because the app is available for download on the App Store.” The filing underscores that this is particularly true where, as here, the plaintiffs fail to allege a connection between a plaintiff or perpetrator and Apple.

The motion to dismiss raises a Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act defense, claiming that Apple is shielded from claims that treat online platforms as the publisher of third-party content. 

Even failing that, Apple says the causes of action fall short for failing to allege their required elements. Like an opinion against Salesforce concerning its alleged participation in a sex-trafficking ring recently found, Apple claims that it neither participated in an illegal venture nor knew or should have known about the crimes against the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are represented by Eisenberg & Baum LLP and Buche & Associates P.C. while Apple is represented by Jenner & Block LLP.