BrandTotal 'Recklessly' Built Data-Harvesting Business, Facebook Tells Court

Analytics company BrandTotal “recklessly built a business monetizing data it improperly harvested,” Facebook contends in new court papers.

“To facilitate their data harvesting activities, BrandTotal developed, promoted, and distributed several browser extensions and mobile applications, all programmed and designed to automatically scrape user and advertising-related data (without Facebook’s permission) from Facebook and Instagram (and other sites) whenever a user visited those sites with a device on which one of BrandTotal’s apps or extensions had been installed,” Facebook writes in papers filed Friday with U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Spero in San Francisco.

“To protect the privacy of user data and the security of its network, Facebook prohibits the collection of data using automated means and without permission,” the company writes.

Facebook adds that advertising data is typically associated with “personal information” such as the advertiser's name (including first and last name, if the advertiser is a person), user's geographic data and “non-public user information associated with other users' interactions with those ads.”

“Scraping that information can make it vulnerable to exploitation and can burden Facebook’s networks,” Facebook writes.

Facebook's new papers come in a legal battle with BrandTotal dating to last September, when Facebook took steps to ban BrandTotal's UpVoice browser extension from the platform, and asked Google to remove UpVoice from the Chrome Web Store.

At around the same time, Facebook alleged in a lawsuit against BrandTotal that its UpVoice extension -- which enables data collection -- violated the social networking platform's terms of service as well as a federal anti-hacking law.

BrandTotal, which says it compensates users who install UpVoice countered that Facebook engaged in unfair competition and interfered with BrandTotal's contracts.

The analytics company sought a temporary restraining order requiring Facebook to stop blocking BrandTotal, and to rescind the takedown notice sent to Google.

Spero denied BrandTotal's request for a restraining order last year, and dismissed BrandTotal's counterclaims in February. But the judge allowed BrandTotal to redraft its claims and try again.

Two weeks ago, BrandTotal amended its counterclaims and renewed its request for an injunction.

Facebook is now urging Spero to dismiss those amended counterclaims. Among other arguments, company says its moves against BrandTotal were justified.

“BrandTotal has scraped user information for years using various apps and extensions,” Facebook writes. “This kind of abuse, much less persistent violations of Facebook terms, requires enforcement because it can put associated user information at risk, undermine advertisers’ expectations of control over their own data, and risk overburdening the Facebook networks.”

Last month, BrandTotal released “UpVoice 2021,” a new version of its data-collection tool that, according to the company, only gathers information about ad viewership, and not demographic data.

BrandTotal CEO Alon Leibovich stated Monday, “Startups like BrandTotal  shouldn't live in fear of big tech and should be free to innovate and develop their technology.”

Spero is expected hold a hearing in the case on May 14.

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