Facebook Sued For Scanning 'Private' Messages

Two Facebook users have sued the social network for allegedly scanning the “private” messages that users send to each other on the platform.

“Contrary to its representations, 'private' Facebook messages are systematically intercepted by the company in an effort to learn the contents of the users’ communications,” Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley allege in their complaint, filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. “This practice is not done to facilitate the transmission of users’ communications via Facebook, but because it enables Facebook to mine user data and profit from those data by sharing them with third parties -- namely, advertisers, marketers, and other data aggregators.”

The lawsuit centers on allegations that Facebook scans users' messages to each other, in order to determine whether people are sending their friends links to other sites. Campbell an Arkansas resident, and Hurley, of Oregon, say that Facebook then “follows the enclosed link, and searches for information to profile the message-sender’s web activity.”

Some of the allegations in the lawsuit first emerged in 2012, when a security researcher reported that Facebook interprets links within users' messages to each other as “Likes” -- and then includes them in the total number of “Likes” that appear on the publishers' pages.

At the time, Facebook told The Wall Street Journal that no private information is exposed, but confirmed that the Like-counter "reflects the number of times people have clicked those buttons and also the number of times people have shared that page's link on Facebook."

Campbell and Hurley allege that the company doesn't adequately inform users that it intends to scan their messages. “Facebook misleads users into believing that they have a secure, private mechanism for communication -- Facebook’s private messaging function -- when, in fact, Facebook intercepts and scans the content and treats portions of that content no differently than a public 'Like' or post, broadcast openly across the Internet,” they allege.

They say Facebook violates the federal wiretap law as well as California privacy laws. Campbell and Hurley are seeking class action status.

3 comments about "Facebook Sued For Scanning 'Private' Messages".
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  1. Mark Mclaughlin from McLaughlin Strategy, January 2, 2014 at 4:21 p.m.

    "Cambell and Hurley" sounds like a small law firm specializing in class action litigation.

  2. MARIA DI FONZO from TEAM IGNITION, January 3, 2014 at 1:21 p.m.

    Privacy is still Facebook's Achilles heel and it is hurting individuals as well as brands and marketers. Respect for the consumers data should be put in the first place.

  3. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, January 5, 2014 at 12:04 a.m.

    So much of this "class action" reeks of overreaching, taking a research study and extrapolating the worst possible outcome.

    It's a pretty major step to go from caching draft messages (which most email clients do on behalf of their users) to actively using the content of those draft messages to add to the corpus of information about individual end users. Of course, so much of Silicon Valley these days is about hubris and the "art" of abusing individual information for fun and profit.

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