Facebook sued for allegedly scanning your private messages

Facebook sued for allegedly scanning your private messages

Summary: A class-action suit claims that the social networking site monitors and uses your messages for advertising purposes.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Legal, Tech Industry
16
facebook-cred-cnetuk-600
Credit: CNET UK

A fresh lawsuit levied against Facebook alleges that private messages are scanned in order to mine data and target advertising towards users.

The class-action lawsuit, submitted by Arkansas lawyer Matt Campbell and Michael Hurley from Oregon on Monday at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, says that the social networking giant monitors users' private messages in order to compile and mine data which can be used to profile web activity. This data can then allegedly be used for profit through sales to marketers and advertisers -- who then can target ads based on the user's online behavior.

The complaint says:

"Contrary to its representations, "private" Facebook messages are systematically intercepted by the Company in an effort to learn the contents of the users' communications [..] This practice enables Facebook to mine user data and profit from those data by sharing them with third parties -- namely, advertisers, marketers, and other data aggregators."

Independent research has also been cited within the lawsuit, stating that Facebook scans the content of private messages for purposes "unrelated" to communication. The research says that when a user shares a link within a Facebook message, these links are recorded to contribute to the brand's Facebook activity, and can add to the amount of 'likes' a firm has. Facebook later admitted to the Wall Street Journal that this was the case, but "absolutely no private information has been exposed" due to the practice.

Great Debate

Will Google Glass face adoption challenges due to privacy concerns?

Will Google Glass face adoption challenges due to privacy concerns?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Google's ground-breaking product.

In addition, by touting the social networking site's messaging system as "private," the complaint says that the firm has given itself the opportunity to mine data which isn't available to other data aggregators. In short, because users think the system is private, they might be more likely to reveal information about themselves or their lives that wouldn't be revealed if they thought Facebook was mining this type of data.

The plaintiffs argue for either $100 for each day of the alleged privacy breach, or $10,000 for each U.S. user that claims to have been affected.

Facebook says that the complaint is "without merit," and the company plans to "defend [itself] vigorously."

The company has faced criticism for its privacy policies in the past. Last year, Facebook came under fire for revised changes to its privacy policy which would allow adverts to be created using the profile pictures and names of the site's users. Facebook argued that the proposal was little more than a clarification of its privacy policy, rather than a material change.

Topics: Legal, Tech Industry

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

16 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Microsoft

    Why on earth do you think that awful Company Microsoft took so much interest in Facebook ? Not for the social aspect by any means, but to ''profile'' and exploit to the maximum raw information to sell at massive profits to Companies. A clear example (from a case study I worked upon) is to trawl through the facia of information, collect details of sickness / illness / activities that lead to such and collate this into pockets of data. The profiling enabled predictive analysis to project outwards in timeline to who will need healthcare.
    The 'profiles' could determine which would be denied medicines as defined worthless, those who would be on lifelong dosages of something and those that would require high value doctoring.
    Other 'profiles' looked to teenagers and home situations, drug habits, alcohol habits, smoking habits and were classed accordingly.
    Other 'profiles' looked to social relationships of who were 'tight' with whom, thereby defining the potential criminality of each.
    So yes, targeted actions are being constructed, and well used, you won't find me on Facebook.
    Edward M Rose
    • So you are stating as FACT

      That Facebook is sharing this information with Microsoft?
      If not your entire post is pointless.
      If so, prove it since Microsoft only has a 1.6% stake in Facebook.
      thekman58
    • So what's your point?

      Your post deserve to be a feature article on its own.
      a hobbit
    • Tell me more...

      I am particularly interested in who defines any given person as "worthless", what the criteria are, and whether their debt load, assets, and personal philosophy are part of that definition. In other words, who is most likely to be "saved" (or "sacrificed") by investment of medical care (or the withholding thereof), and what is that decision based upon? Lastly, is the definition of "worthiness" prone to change as the administration changes?
      ZDreaderr
    • Proof?

      Have any details of this alleged case study been published and can you provide a link?

      Your entire post is suspect simply based on the heavily prejudicial tone of your first sentence. I won't claim that it's completely implausible, but has too much of the taint of "urban legend" characteristics to take at face value.
      Nierteroth9
  • Most mobile appss....

    ..do not have advertisements. The ads that Facebook gets revenue from appear more on the web versions rather than on mobile apps. Majority of users use FB apps on their mobiles.
    a hobbit
  • Facebook has lost its touch.

    I just sent my Facebook account to deletion in 14 days, the social network has greatly deteriorated over the last months, it has a lot of flaws and is not worth it anymore. Hacks, an absent customer service, they block you for nothing for lots of weeks, perhaps for life, they do not control the report system, it is a real mess. I hope Google+ gains momentum and people soon dump this worthless social network that FB has become.
    espizarro83_TB
  • What do you expect for 'Free'...

    Last time I checked, Facebook was free to use. If you don't like their lack of privacy policy then don't use their website. They 'owe' you nothing and this policy should not be a surprise - it's probably buried in their terms of service.

    While I'm not a fan of Facebook, I hope that this frivolous lawsuit by these bottom feeding lawyers gets thrown out. If there is one thing that everyone should know by now it's the fact that anytime you interact in anyway with the Internet the results are public and forever.
    Steven J. Ackerman
    • And does Facebook state these facts upfront, in a clear and emphatic way?

      Why no, they don't! They bury it in obscure terms in the user agreement, where you need a legal team to interpret just what the hell it means, and even they won't agree. I dropped Facebook the moment I knew they read my postings, and then sold my name to advertisers, and it was obvious to anyone that they did just that. They're so crude about it, because they know they don't have to care about it for the vast majority of their users, and I am no longer among them. Volunteering to be stalked by a creepy company like Facebook is illogical and stupid. I learned my lesson. Most others have not.
      thetwonkey
      • YES, they tell you upfront

        Just because you were to lazy or too dumb to skip the TOS does not mean they didn't warn you.
        wackoae
      • Google's Not Ashamed To Do It

        To Googles credit, at least upfront, you know that Google will read all of your E Mails, Google + posts, YouTube history and searches, Google searches, Contacts in you Address books, Everything right down to words in your Google Drive storage, Notes, Calendar entries, your location and who you call and text on Androids, track your movements, Google Chrome history, what music you buy, movies you watch and so on, But Facebook isn't that upfront about.
        Bottom Line, If you does want your personal life living in Google of Facebooks servers, Don't use them.
        I dropped all of Googles services like a hot potato, Facebook may be next.
        cheydaddy
    • Yes, there's no such thing as a free service

      And, yes, you probably shouldn't expect that your "private" messages on Facebook will be private WRT Facebook. That said, seems to me the real issue here is that Facebook isn't being honest about the cost of its "free" service. That's unethical at best and might, in fact, deserve a lawsuit.

      I'm not cynical enough to think we should just accept dishonesty as a normal part of business. That's a signpost on the road to moral rot.
      the_doge
  • Facebook is done. I give them 2 years, tops.

    Seriously, leave facebook now! If you're totally oblivious to privacy-based sites, then check out some of these: Ravetree, DuckDuckGo, HushMail, and there are many more.
    chrisp114
    • facebook could not survive w/o morons

      the reason why facebook is so successful is due to all the morons it a tracts and enrolls. to this end business's figured out that facebook is a nice honey pot that gathers flies and what they buzz about.
      databaseben
  • humorous at best

    It's going to be a waste of time to sue facebook over this issue.

    I mean it is like suing the food industry for their claims of "real fruit flavor", "wholesome goodness", "pure", "healthy", "natural", etc.., etc..

    to this end why do people believe that "free" is equatable to "no cost"? free email by a private provider incurs a cost and users have to pay for these services, albeit indirectly.
    databaseben
  • Useless !

    Never did see the usefulness or need for FB.
    If one does not value their privacy, then they should not complain if the lose it.
    But Hey!, whatever floats your boat.
    da philster