Facebook Hit With New Privacy Lawsuit Over Message Scanning

Facebook has been hit with a second potential class-action lawsuit accusing it of violating users' privacy by scanning their messages to each other.

“Facebook’s desire to harness the myriad data points of its users has led to overreach and intrusion on the part of the company as it mines its account holders’ private communications for monetary gain,” Los Angeles resident David Shadpour alleges in the new complaint, filed last week in the Northern District of California.

Shadpour's lawsuit, like a similar one filed late last year by Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley, focuses on allegations that the social networking service scans private messages in order to determine whether they contain URLs to other Web sites. When Facebook finds URLs within messages, the company counts those links as “likes” and includes them in the total number of “likes” that appear on publishers' pages, according to the complaint.

“Contrary to its representations ... 'private' Facebook messages are in fact scanned by the company in an effort to glean, store and capitalize on the contents of its user’s communications,” Shadpour alleges. He is accusing Facebook of violating California state laws.

Allegations that Facebook intercepts links within messages date to 2012, when a security researcher reported that Facebook considers such URLs as “likes.” At the time, Facebook acknowledged that it includes links in the “like-counter,” but said it doesn't publicly associate users' names with the content.

It's not clear why consumers waited nearly two years to challenge the alleged practice in court, but one possibility is that the litigation was fueled by an anti-Google privacy ruling issued last year by U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh. She said that Google potentially violates the wiretap law by scanning Gmail messages in order to serve contextual ads.

Google recently asked Koh to send that matter to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the ruling could have “widespread effects on a broad swath of internet industries.” Two weeks ago, Google called Koh's attention to the lawsuit against Facebook filed by Campbell and Hurley.

Google says that the Facebook lawsuit is “directly relevant” to Google's request to appeal: “It demonstrates that plaintiffs in other matters are filing claims based on the unsettled interpretation” of electronic privacy laws, Google argues. Koh hasn't yet ruled on the request.
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