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SKorean lawyer wages privacy fight against Apple

SEOUL, South Korea » A South Korean lawyer who is an avid user of the iPhone is waging a legal privacy battle against Apple Inc. over the device’s tracking capabilities.

Kim Hyeong-seok said Friday that he has gotten at least 16,000 people in South Korea to join him in a class-action lawsuit he plans to file against the company in a Seoul court in early August.

The 36-year-old international trade and business attorney has already gotten Apple’s Korean unit to pay him 1 million won ($945) over a lawsuit he took to a regional South Korean court in April.

His complaint was that the iPhone’s tracking of users’ locations violated South Korea’s constitutional right to privacy and also caused him "mental stress."

That hasn’t stopped him from continuing to use his iPhone 4 as well as an iPad.

"I like Apple," Kim said in a phone interview from his office in the city of Changwon, located about 240 miles (380 kilometers) southeast of Seoul.

In fact, Kim says he is afflicted with "Apple mania."

But he adds his legal fight is about "right or wrong."

Apple spokesman Steve Park in Seoul declined to coment.

Kim said that he plans to file the class-action lawsuit in Seoul sometime during the first three days of August and that the targets will be both Apple Korea as well as Cupertino, California-based Apple Inc.

The suit will seek 1 million won in damages for each participant, he said.

Kim’s fight comes as the iPhone has shaken up the South Korean mobile phone market since it went on sale in November 2009.

The phone has unleashed a smartphone war and prompted local companies Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. to raise their games. Samsung has challenged the iPhone with its Galaxy line of Android-based smartphones while LG has been pushing its Optimus line.

Kim began his legal fight in April after reading that iPhones could store data which could potentially be used to track the movements of users.

He filed a lawsuit in the local Changwon District Court seeking damages.

Kim said the court ruled in his favor in May and awarded him the monetary damage he sought. The company did not contest the ruling and Apple Korea paid the money on June 27, Kim said.

A Changwon District Court spokesman confirmed the ruling and payment.

Kim said he believes the payment was the first Apple has made anywhere in the world regarding the tracking issue, which surfaced in April. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported it was the first in South Korea.

Apple admitted that iPhones were storing the locations of nearby cellphone towers and Wi-Fi hot spots for up to a year. Such data can be used to create a rough map of the device owner’s movements.

Apple also faces another legal challenge in South Korea.

A total of 29 iPhone users filed a class-action lawsuit over the tracking issue in late April, Yonhap news agency reported.

Associated Press writer May Cho contributed to this report.

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