Facebook Defeats Claims It Violated Users' Privacy By Collecting Location Data

Largely siding with Facebook, a federal judge has dismissed claims that the company violated users' privacy by collecting location data.

U.S. District Court Judge James Donato in the Northern District of California dismissed the claims without prejudice, meaning that Facebook users can reformulate their complaints and bring them again.

The decision, issued Christmas Eve, stemmed from two class-action complaints -- one brought in October of 2018 by California resident Brett Heeger, and one brought the following month by Colorado residents Brendan Lundy and Myriah Watkins.

In both cases, the Facebook users alleged that Facebook collected IP addresses, even when users attempted to prevent the company from accessing location data. The complaint by Lundy and Watkins additionally alleged that Facebook deployed “enhanced tracking methodologies” to obtain more precise geolocation data about users.

Facebook urged Donato to dismiss both complaints for several reasons, including that the users lacked “standing” to proceed in federal court because they didn't experience any privacy-related harms.

Donato agreed with Facebook that merely collecting an IP address doesn't implicate people's privacy and dismissed Heeger's claims on that basis.

“There is no legally protected privacy interest in IP addresses,” Donato wrote in a 16-page order.

But the judge said Lundy and Watkins had “standing” to proceed, because they alleged that Facebook used “enhanced” geolocation tracking.

The complaint by Lundy and Watkins “alleges considerably more than the collection of IP addresses,” Donato wrote. “Plaintiffs have made specific, factual allegations pointing to 'enhanced' geocoordinate location information.”

Despite that finding, Donato dismissed the specific claims raised by Lundy and Watkins on the grounds that their allegations, even if proven true, wouldn't support their claims.

“While plaintiffs have made out standing to sue, the substantive facts alleged for their causes of action need work,” Donato wrote.

For instance, the pair claimed that Facebook misrepresented its practices by telling users that its collected geolocation data depended on their privacy settings.

Donato agreed that language in Facebook's data policy would lead a typical user to “reasonably conclude” that the company “would not collect device locations” without consent.

But he ruled that Lundy and Watkins failed to also allege that they relied on Facebook's statements, noting that they both continued to use Facebook after learning it collected some location data.

“Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged a misrepresentation or omission,” Donato wrote. “The reliance allegations are less sound.”

The judge gave the users until January 21 to amend their complaints.

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