Meta Platforms must face claims that its analytics software, the Meta Pixel, wrongly collected information from the California Department of Motor Vehicles' website, a federal judge ruled this week.
The decision, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston in the Northern District of California, comes in a class-action complaint brought in January by California resident Mikhail Gershzon, who alleged that Meta wrongly obtains personal information from the state's motor vehicles site -- including users' first names, email addresses, and the identities of people who applied for disabled placards.
“Meta combines this personal information with other information about each user gathered from other sources and uses it for unauthorized purposes,” Gershzon alleged.
He elaborated that Meta allegedly “feeds the vast quantities of information obtained from Meta Pixels into its advertising systems, using it to identify users and their personal characteristics, categorize them for Meta’s business purposes, and target them with marketing messages from its advertising clients.”
The complaint included claims that Meta violated federal and state privacy laws, including the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act -- which prohibits companies knowingly obtaining personal information from a motor vehicle record for an improper purpose.
Meta urged Illston to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that even if the allegations were proven true, they wouldn't show that the company violated that law.
“The only information about plaintiff that Meta allegedly received was his first name, his e-mail address, and information suggesting that he began an application for a disabled person placard and later checked the status of that application,” Meta wrote, referring to Gershzon.
“None of this data is 'personal information' ... nor was it obtained by Meta 'from a motor vehicle record,'” the company argued.
Meta also said the allegations wouldn't prove that it used data for an improper purpose, and not a legitimate purpose -- such as helping the Department of Motor Vehicles with market research.
Illston rejected those arguments, writing that a first name, email address and information regarding a disability placard are the kinds of facts that can identify someone.
She also said that whether Meta was helping the agency conduct market research was the kind of factual issue that couldn't be resolved without more evidence.
“The complaint expressly alleges that Meta obtains individuals’ personal information via the Meta Pixel for the improper purpose of creating customized audiences for its advertising business,” she wrote. “Whether Meta in fact had a permissible purpose in obtaining and using personal information ... raises factual questions to be resolved on summary judgment or at trial.”
The lawsuit is one of several privacy cases brought recently against Meta over its Pixel.
The company also faces claims that it violated patients' privacy by collecting data via the Meta Pixel from hospital websites and tax preparation services.