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Pending Facebook Lawsuit Over Message Scanning

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Monday, January 26th, 2015


Facebook is staring at a huge class action lawsuit over its message scanning practices. The lawsuit was filed by a couple of Facebook users (Michael Hurly and Matthew Campbell) who alleged that the social networking company had breached the trust of its users by intercepting their private messages without their consent and used the data thus collected for targeted advertising. Facebook tried its best to get the lawsuit quashed but Judge Phyllis Hamilton from Oakland, California recently ruled that the case must go ahead. The following will go over the pending Facebook lawsuit details:

In the lawsuit, Campbell v. Facebook Inc, the plaintiffs allege that Facebook violated State and Federal laws by scanning private messages that contained links to websites, interpreting the links as likes for the corresponding pages and used the “likes” collected in this way to build profiles of users which were later used for targeted advertising. The plaintiffs accused Facebook of violating California’s Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA), Electronic Communications Privacy Act (also known as the Wiretap Act) as well as section 17200 of California State’s Business and Professions Code.

The lawsuit was filed in 2013 on behalf of all the U.S. based Facebook users who might have sent or received private messages containing links to other sites. The class action lawsuit also seeks $10,000 in damages for every user whose messages contained URLs as well as bar the social networking giant from scanning the messages sent through its private messaging service.

Facebook, in its defense, said that scanning of private messages was permitted as an exception within the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Lawyers of the company argued that interceptions occurring during ordinary course of business were totally legal. However, the judge was not convinced and said that the social company did not offer sufficient explanation regarding why the practice of scanning private messages should come under the purview of ordinary course of business. Facebook also tried to scuttle the lawsuit by claiming that it had stopped the practice of intercepting private messages in 2012 itself. However, the plaintiffs alleged that Facebook could resume message scanning in the future plus the company itself admitted that it still scans messages to protect users from viruses, spam and other security threats. In light of these revelations, the court declined to provide a relief to the social networking organization at this point of time.

Facebook is not the only Silicon Valley company which is facing the heat for the violating user privacy. Google is facing a similar lawsuit over accusations that the company’s email offering, Gmail; violated the Wiretap Act by scanning emails for the purpose of displaying contextual ads. However, Google’s system of scanning messages and displaying ads is significantly different from what Facebook used to target its users. Google uses an automatic algorithm that looks for certain keywords within emails and displays ads related to them but the company does not store the scanned information anywhere. In sharp contrast, Facebook not only scanned the messages but also built user profiles and stored them for future use. Hence, it would not be wrong to say that the social networking company spied on its users to increase its revenues.


January 26, 2015
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