BrandTotal Seeks Court Order Forcing Facebook To Lift Block

Earlier this month, Facebook initiated a court battle against the ad services company BrandTotal over allegations that it scraped users' data.

Facebook alleged in an October 1 lawsuit that BrandTotal violated the social networking platform's terms of service, and ran afoul of a federal anti-hacking law. Facebook also took steps to ban BrandTotal's UpVoice browser extension -- which enabled data collection -- from the platform, and demanded that Google remove UpVoice from the Chrome Web Store.

On Friday, BrandTotal struck back by requesting a restraining order that would require Facebook to stop blocking BrandTotal, and to rescind the takedown notice sent to Google.

“Facebook’s complaint brazenly labels the UpVoice browser extension 'malicious' with no explanation,” the company writes in papers filed late Friday with U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Spero in the Northern District of California. “Far from malicious, BrandTotal has at all times hired skilled data privacy lawyers to make sure it is compliant with all privacy laws, and BrandTotal only analyzes deidentified and aggregated user data to identify advertising trends.”

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BrandTotal adds that UpVoice's users explicitly agree to the data collection, and receive payment from the company.

“With the participant’s consent and after they deliberately install the extension in exchange for compensation, BrandTotal is able to collect information about the ads they see and interact with on social media sites like Facebook, as they browse as usual on those sites,” the company argues. “In short, these UpVoice paid users help BrandTotal and its customers better understand effective advertising strategies, including advertising on Facebook.”

The company -- which says it “stands on the brink of collapse” as a result of Facebook's actions -- alleges that Facebook acted anti-competitively by “unfairly leveraging its power in the social networking market to secure an anticompetitive advantage in the data analytics market.”

BrandTotal argues that its request for a restraining order is supported by a recent ruling involving social networking service LinkedIn and analytics company hiQ Labs, which scrapes data about users from LinkedIn's publicly available pages, analyzes the information to determine which employees are at risk of being poached, and sells the findings to employers.

LinkedIn argued that hiQ's scraping violates users' privacy, as well as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibits companies from accessing computer servers without authorization. hiQ countered that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act shouldn't be interpreted to prevent companies from scraping publicly available data, and also said LinkedIn was acting anticompetitively.

A trial judge granted hiQ's request for an injunction that required LinkedIn to allow access to its site. That ruling was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

LinkedIn recently asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal, but that court hasn't yet said whether it will intervene.

Spero is scheduled to consider BrandTotal's request at a hearing on October 26.

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