Facebook sued for illegal message scanning

Facebook facing class-action lawsuit over illegal message scanning

Privacy has been one of the biggest concerns with the world’s biggest social networking service. It has had a rough history as far as its privacy policies are concerned and a new lawsuit will just dent that reputation even further. After attempting unsuccessfully to dismiss the claims, Facebook will now have to face a lawsuit against charges that the social network was illegally scanning messages sent by its users over its private messaging platform.

The lawsuit which was filed in 2013, alleges that Facebook scanned the content of private messages sent between users for links to websites and would then count any links in a tally of “likes” of the pages. Those “likes” were then used to compile user profiles, which were then used for delivering targeted advertising to its users, the lawsuit said.

Targeted Advertising

Facebook allegedly scanned messages sent by its users for links to websites as part of its marketing strategy. It sifted through the links sent by the users to target them with advertisements by gauging their preferences. Even Google does the same thing with the search but then Google search is a public platform and messaging is supposed to be private confidential affair.

This activity, is illegal as per U.S. Federal and California state laws – the state where Facebook is based.

Facebook tried to dismiss the claims, saying that it didn’t break any laws and that the alleged message scans were protected under an exception in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton, the presiding judge and the person who matters, doesnt think so and has denied attempts by Facebook’s lawyers to dismiss the case.

Facebook had argued that the alleged scanning of its users’ messages was covered by an exception under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act for interceptions by service providers occurring in the ordinary course of business. But Hamilton said Facebook had “not offered a sufficient explanation of how the challenged practice falls within the ordinary course of its business.”

Case Files

The plaintiffs alleged that this scanning of messages was against the federal laws of the United States and that Facebook should pay damages to every single user who has used the social networking website to send and receive messages. If Facebook loses the case, with a billion plus users Facebook faces a daunting task of fulfilling damages claims which some experts believe will be somewhere the range of  $10,000 in damages for each user. Multiply that by Facebook’s billion-plus users, carry the one and you could get figures similar to a small countries GDP.  The company apparently ceased the scanning of messages sometime in October 2012 but it still carries out a certain amount of analysis to protect against viruses.

The lawsuit was filed by Facebook user Matthew Campbell and seeks class-action status. The case is Campbell v. Facebook Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 13-5996.

Source Reuters.

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