Facebook Sues App Developer Over Data Mining

Going on the offensive against alleged data harvesting, Facebook has accused the South Korean app developer Rankwave of violating the social networking service's terms by drawing on data about users for advertising.

Facebook alleged in a lawsuit filed Friday in San Mateo, California Superior Court that Rankwave used data associated with its apps “for its own business purposes, which include providing consulting services to advertisers and marketing companies.”

The social networking company says its contract with app developers prohibits them from using data for any purposes other than “enhancing the app users’ experience on the app.”

Jessica Romero, Facebook's director of platform enforcement and litigation stated Friday that the company is “sending a message to developers that Facebook is serious about enforcing our policies.”



She added that the company has suspended Rankwave's apps and accounts.

From 2010 through this year, Rankwave offered at least 30 apps, according to the complaint. Facebook doesn't provide details about most of the apps, but says that one -- offered between 2012 and 2018 -- sought to measure people's popularity on Facebook by “analyzing the level of interaction that other users had with the app user’s Facebook posts.”

Facebook says in its complaint that Rankwave failed to comply with a request for more information, as well as requests to identify third parties that received data about users, delete that data, and allow Facebook to conduct its own audit. The social networking platform says its policies for app developers require them to comply with requests for audits, and to delete data in certain circumstances.

Facebook's suit comes as the company continues to face fallout over revelations that president Trump's data consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, harvested information from up to 87 million of the social networking service's users.

Cambridge Analytica obtained the data from researcher Aleksandr Kogan, who gleaned the information in 2014 through the personalty-quiz app "thisisyourdigitallife." Only 270,000 Facebook users downloaded Kogan's app, but he was able to gather data about many of those users' contacts.

At the time, Facebook allowed developers to glean information about users' friends, subject to their privacy settings. But Facebook's terms of service prohibited developers from sharing that information. (In April of 2015, Facebook stopped allowing developers to access data about users' friends.)

After news about Cambridge Analytica broke, Facebook came under scrutiny for failing to either warn users, or aggressively enforce its policies prohibiting developers from sharing data. The Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating Facebook, is considering fining the company $5 billion over the incident.

The social networking platform is now seeking monetary damages from Rankwave and a court order requiring the developer to cooperate with an audit and expunge data about users.

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