NEWS3 January 2014

Lawsuit claims Facebook ‘mines’ private messages

Legal News North America

US — Two Facebook users are suing the social network, alleging that it scans the contents of private messages in order to “mine user data and profit from those data by sharing them with third parties – namely, advertisers, marketers, and other data aggregators”.

Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley are seeking class-action status for their lawsuit, which accuses Facebook of violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, as well as California’s Invasion of Privacy Act and it’s Unfair Competition Law and Business & Professions Code.

In a statement given to CNET (which posted a link to the lawsuit here), a Facebook spokesman said: “We believe the allegations are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

Campbell and Hurley’s complaint points to two separate studies by security researchers in support of their allegations. The first is by High-Tech Bridge, in which secret URLs were added to Facebook private messages, after which web server logs were used to confirm that HTTP requests had been made by Facebook. The second comes from Ashkan Soltani, who co-authored a Wall Street Journal report that looked into the way Facebook counts links shared within private messages towards a webpage’s total Likes.

According to Campbell and Hurley’s complaint: “Facebook misleads users into believing that they have a secure, private mechanism for communication – Facebook’s private messaging function – when, in fact, Facebook intercepts and scans the content and treats portions of that content no differently than a public ‘Like’ or post, broadcast openly across the internet. Further, the purpose for the invasive scanning of these purportedly ‘private’ messages is not meant for the benefit of users, but rather is a mechanism for Facebook to surreptitiously gather data in an effort to improve its marketing algorithms and increase its ability to profit from data about Facebook users.”