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 newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Blog Posts

How challenger brands can win at biddable media

Challenger brands, especially in highly competitive markets, generally can’t match established players for media spend.

Chris Pittham

Managing director, Jaywing

The competitive advantage Australian retailers have over Amazon

With all of the hype around Amazon, many online retailers have been trying to understand how they can compete with the American retail giant.

Joel Milligan

Performance manager, Columbus Agency

How to become the customer experience custodian

The number one objective enterprises give for embarking on a digital transformation is to improve customer experiences with new engagement models, according to IDC’s 2017 global study.

Insightful article from an AdTech perspective

Mehdi Partika

Predictions 2018: 5 ways the CMO role will change

Read more

Sounds like a bunch of convoluted business bullshit with no real substance or value. Business people deluding themselves into thinking th...

Bupa Customer

Best CX Companies List profiles: Bupa's Voice of the Customer project

Read more

This partnership seems to bring a lot of benefits.

Uk Driver

Deloitte announces new agency partnership to expand digital reality capabilities

Read more

It's all about the experience and it seems that understanding is finally full tilt!

Danny Mack

Building a robust digital customer experience

Read more

I am going to visit Australia))) nice place ... one of the most attractive

Carly Julia

Tourism Australia aims for youth travel market with dedicated news channel

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in