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Facebook Class Action Seeks Damages for the Alleged Interception of Private Messages

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Facebook is facing a class action lawsuit instigated by Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley who contend that “private” Facebook messages and other information that the company can collect is in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and other California state laws.

The class action complaint (PDF) released late last week stated, “Contrary to its representations, ‘private’ Facebook messages are systematically intercepted by the Company in an effort to learn the contents of the users’ communications.”

The class action suggests that Facebook messages that include URLs have their contents scanned and the links followed, and that this can be combined with profile information to profile the message-sender. The suit contends that saying messages are “private” fools users into believing they are communicating on a service free from surveillance.

The motivation for this, according to the suit, is that this information allows it to more closely target third party advertisements to individuals based on mining and storing their personal data.

Plaintiffs Campbell and Hurley claim that Facebook hides the extent of its intrusive behavior from its users, but that it is open about these activities in its technical guidance for web developers.

In a statement to Wired.co.uk, Facebook denied the allegations made in the lawsuit.

Facebook has been the target of a number of similar lawsuits in the past, including a class action led by Law firm Stewarts Law US which combined 21 privacy lawsuits seeking $15 billion.

In 2009, five individuals lodged a civil suit in California, claiming that Facebook has failed to abide by the state’s consumer privacy laws. This complaint was reportedly dismissed with prejudice in early 2010.

However, if this latest lawsuit is successful, it could potentially lose Facebook a great deal of money, but it could also challenge its profitability by inhibiting its ability to profile its users for the sale of targeted ads.

About the Author

David Hamilton is a Toronto-based technology journalist who has written for the National Post and other news outlets. He has covered the hosting industry internationally for the Web Host Industry Review with particular attention to innovative hosting solutions and the issues facing the industry. David is a graduate of Queen’s University and the Humber College School of Media Studies.

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