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!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Blog Posts

5 cornerstones of a strong digital culture

Creating a strong company culture may sound like a daunting task, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. In fact, company culture is created in exactly the same fashion as a religion or democracy. Behaviours created from the organisation’s inception are reinforced over time by leadership, attracting like-minded people and eventually reaching critical mass to become an accepted ‘truth’.

Anthony Stevens

Founder and CEO, Digital Asset Ventures

Should you rebuild your company’s tech stack in blockchain?

The question I get asked most regularly these days is: ‘Do I need to rebuild my company’s systems on Blockchain?’ And the answer, every time, is ‘No, you’re asking the wrong question’.

Michelle O'Keeffe

CEO, Engaging.io

Customer value proposition: Getting the brand promise to your customers right

Throughout my career, I have witnessed a litany of brand names that profess to have a unique customer value proposition (CVP). In reality, however, they’ve had little more than a ‘value proposition’: A simple list of benefits applied to a general audience.

Ric Navarro

Global director of marketing and communications, Norman, Disney & Young

What is your opinion about chatbots serving your customers? My belief is bots are going to be the future of customer service and fulfilme...

Giridhar Prathap Reddy

NAB taps power of AI chatbots for business customer service

Read more

Thanks for writing about chatbots. Definitely bots have the exciting future when it comes to customer engagement, transactional and conve...

Giridhar Prathap Reddy

Deloitte TMT Predictions: AR and mobile crucial for marketing success in 2018

Read more

Hi there! Thanks for this interesting article! I love to read about new technology and software that makes our lives easier. I'm looking ...

Julia Summer

Wartsila overhauls Web platforms to create ‘seamless’ brand experience across all devices

Read more

RE: Sales and marketing SLAs, often the choke point isn't the teams but them getting the data into the tools they want to use with the da...

Ed Fry

Why sales and marketing alignment is more important than ever

Read more

Thank you for the good and very helpful information. It is very interesting. I love all the things you share and see your beautiful creat...

รัตนาวดี ภูมิวรรณ

Former eHarmony marketing chief joins telco startup

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in