Facebook sued for allegedly scanning your private messages

A class-action suit claims that the social networking site monitors and uses your messages for advertising purposes.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
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.

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.

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