Facebook faces lawsuit for allegedly scanning private messages

Facebook is charged with scanning private messages to profile users

Facebook has been accused of intercepting private messages of its users to provide data to marketers, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in a federal court in California.

The social networking company scanned plaintiffs' private messages containing URLs (uniform resource locators) and searched the website identified in the URL for "purposes including but not limited to data mining and user profiling," according to the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The company does not engage in the practice to facilitate the transmission of users' communications via Facebook, but to enable it to mine user data and profit by sharing the data with third parties such as advertisers, marketers, and other data aggregators, the complaint said.

Facebook is said to have violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California privacy laws by its intentional interception of electronic communications.

The complaint cites third-party research to back its claim that Facebook is intercepting and scanning the content of private messages. Swiss firm High-Tech Bridge, for example, reported in August it used a dedicated Web server and generated a secret URL for each of the 50 largest social networks, Web services and free email systems it was testing for their respect of user privacy.

HTB then used the private messaging function of each of the services, embedding a unique URL in each message, and monitored its dedicated Web server's logs for all incoming HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) requests, in order to see whether any of the services would "click" on the test URLs that had been transmitted via private message, the complaint said.

"Facebook was one of the Web Services that was caught scanning URLs despite such activity remaining undisclosed to the user," according to the complaint.

The lawsuit has been brought by Facebook users Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley on behalf of all Facebook users in the U.S. who have sent or received private Facebook messages that included a URL in the content of the message.

On Nov. 15, 2010, Facebook announced a new, integrated email and messaging service for its users, that combined the functionality of email, chat, SMS, and in- service messaging. Facebook took special pains to tout the privacy features of its new private messaging service, stressing unprecedented user control and privacy, according to the complaint.

In its communications about the service, the social network is said to have made representations that "reflect the promise that only the sender and the recipient or recipients will be privy to the private message's content, to the exclusion of any other party, including Facebook."

The lawsuit asks for class-action status, an injunction against Facebook's practices and damages from the company to class members. It claims the greater of either US$100 a day for each day of alleged violation or $10,000, for each user claimed to be affected, besides damages under California law.

"We believe the allegations are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously," Facebook said in an emailed statement.

Join the CMO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Supporting Association

Blog Posts

Is AI on course to take over human creativity?

Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.

Jason Dooris

CEO and founder, Atomic 212

Are you leading technology changes or is technology leading you?

In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?

Jean-Luc Ambrosi

Author, marketer

Disruption Down Under – What’s Amazon’s real competitive advantage?

Savvy shoppers wait in anticipation, while Australian retailers are gearing up for the onslaught. Amazon’s arrival is imminent.

Thanks for a very interesting article. B2B marketing seems tricky. I think that marketing plays a vital part - it can build the brand and...

Aaren

From tactical overhead to strategic growth driver: B2B marketing in the digital age

Read more

meanwhile loads of people with digital skills are not finding work or getting an opportunity to be hired?? Double standards perhaps.

Graduate dying on centrelink

Report reveals Australia faces digital skills shortage

Read more

These laws are in one way or other giving businesses to VPN service providers & other cyber utilities. Just read PureVPN claiming 37%...

Paige Hudson

Getting prepared for mandatory data breach reporting

Read more

Great Post.Thanks for sharing such an informative article.I have worked with Ally Digital Media and it has a very good service which is b...

Utkarsh Kansara

Predictions: 17 digital marketing trends for 2017

Read more

Really inspiring !

Goldenboy Media

Jaywing sets sights on Australian growth with digital and data-driven agency model

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in