Facebook Users Battle Company Over Location Tracking

Facebook users are pressing a federal judge to allow them to proceed with a lawsuit over the platform's alleged “persistent, duplicitous, profit-driven collection and use” of location data.

“Plaintiffs have plausibly pled claims alleging that Facebook violates plaintiffs’ privacy by collecting, without consent, data that pinpoints their locations to 'a geographic area as small as a single house,' multiple times per day,” lawyers for the users argue in papers filed late last week with U.S. District Court Judge James Donato in the Northern District of California.

The new papers come in response to Facebook's request to dismiss a class-action complaint brought by California resident Brett Heeger and others, who allege that the company secretly tracks location data for all users, including ones who turn off the “location history” setting.

The complaint focused on allegations that Facebook stores data about users' “estimated locations,” inferred from their IP addresses, as well as data gleaned from data about WiFi connections. Heeger and the others claim that Facebook's alleged IP-logging violates the federal wiretap law and California privacy laws.

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Facebook has also faced criticism by lawmakers over its location data practices. Sens. Christopher Coons (D-Delaware) and Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) recently accused the company of undermining people's ability to control information about their physical whereabouts by capturing location data from IP addresses and WiFi connections. “If a user has decided to limit Facebook's access to his or her location, Facebook should respect these privacy choices.” the lawmakers said in a letter sent to the company last year.

Heeger initially brought suit in October of 2018. Last December, Donato dismissed the complaint on the grounds that it contained only “bareboned and vague” allegations.

Heeger and the other Facebook users then brought an amended complaint in February. Facebook recently urged Donato to throw out that complaint as well, arguing that it was still too vague.

Among other contentions, Facebook said the amended complaint doesn't specify what location data was actually collected.

Heeger and the others call Facebook's argument “specious,” adding that Facebook alone would have information about the location data it collected.

“There is no requirement that Plaintiffs also recite the list of specific locations Facebook has collected about them -- particularly since that information is exclusively in Facebook’s possession,” class counsel writes. “It is enough that Plaintiffs allege they chose to opt out of Facebook’s location tracking by turning Location History and/or Location Services off.”

Donato is expected to hold a hearing about the matter in May.

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