Korea's communications regulator has determined that Apple's local operators illegally collected information on the locations of its iPhone subscribers and has ordered the company to pay a W3 million fine for privacy violations (US$1=W1,061).
However critics have slammed the nominal fine imposed by the Korea Communications Commission on Wednesday as being way too lenient and nothing more than a mild slap on the wrist.
Washington, Berlin and Rome have also been investigating Apple's collection of user location information since it emerged in April that one of the iPhone's programs stored user location data for more than 10 months.
According to the KCC, Apple Korea compiled data concerning the whereabouts of 2 million iPhone users from June 22 last year to May 4. Although the company said it had first obtained customers' consent, Apple violated the law because it did not inform them that such information was being monitored and stored even after the tracking function was turned off.
Apple stored the location of cellphone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots in users' phones but did not try to find out who the iPhones belonged to, the commission concluded.
In a press briefing, Seok Je-beom of the KCC said, "We found that Apple collected data not to track the location of specific users but to improve its location information service, so we imposed a relatively small fine."
The Korean law on the protection of personal information imposes a jail sentence of up to five years or a fine of up to W50 million if guilty parties are found to have collected location data without customers' consent.
The KCC also ordered Apple to delete the location tracking information. It ordered Google to do the same.
"Apple's [violation] was a serious one, but it is hard to punish this under the current law," Seok added. "We are going to revise the law so that it is more appropriate for current trends in these changing times, where the use of new gadgets such as smartphones is widespread."
The KCC's decision will likely have a huge impact on the viability of class action suits by iPhone users and ongoing investigations in other countries.
"I think we can win our lawsuit just based on the findings so far," said Kim Hyeong-seok, a lawyer at Mirae Law who helped one of his clients win W1 million in compensation from iPhone.
Apple declined to comment.