Facebook Rebuffed In Case Against Social Aggregator Power.com

Handing Facebook a partial defeat, a federal judge rebuffed the company's argument that social networking aggregator Power.com acted unlawfully by enabling users to export their contacts and other data to other services in apparent violation of Facebook's terms of use.

U.S. District Court Judge James Ware in San Jose ruled that helping users automatically "access and manipulate their content" on Facebook doesn't violate the federal computer fraud law, even if Facebook's terms of use prohibit people from scraping the site to retrieve data.

But the case wasn't a total win for Power.com. Ware also said that the aggregator could still be liable if it circumvented technical barriers on Facebook. "A distinction can be made between access that violates a term of use and access that circumvents technical or code-based barriers that a computer network or Web site administrator erects to restrict the user's privileges within the system, or to bar the user from the system altogether," Ware wrote.

With the ruling, Facebook can still potentially prove at trial that Power committed computer fraud, but only if it shows that Power circumvented a technological measure.

Power aggregates information from a variety of social networking sites, enabling users with accounts at services like Orkut, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter to access their information from one portal. To enable this functionality, Power asks users to provide log-in information for their social networking sites and then imports their information.

Facebook objects to the practice, arguing that Power's technology could threaten members' privacy because Power enables users to easily transfer photos or messages marked "private" to other social networking services.

The legal dispute with Facebook dates back to 2008, when Facebook sued Power for computer fraud on the theory that Power accessed the site without permission because Facebook's terms prohibit scraping. Facebook also alleged that Power.com infringed on copyright by making momentary copies of Facebook's Web pages in order to extract information.

Power countersued, alleging that Facebook was violating federal antitrust law as well as California's unfair competition law. Power also argued that any copies it made were a fair use of the material and that helping people to export their own data doesn't violate the computer fraud law.

Ware also dismissed Power's allegations that Facebook was unlawfully attempting to monopolize social networks. The portion of the case related to copyright infringement allegations is slated for trial.

The dispute drew the attention of the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, which argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that violating a site's terms of service is not computer fraud. Otherwise, the group said, any private company would be able to transform millions of Web users into potential criminals by issuing terms of service that users don't read or ignore.



2 comments about "Facebook Rebuffed In Case Against Social Aggregator Power.com".
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  1. Rick Graf from Digital Communications (Graf Inc.), July 22, 2010 at 8:31 a.m.

    Facebook is blocking the posting of a link to this story on Facebook and also blocking it as email message.

  2. Barb Rogers from Casale Media, Inc., July 22, 2010 at 9:17 a.m.

    Very interesting.

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