Facebook Lawsuit: Users' Private Messages Used to Lure Advertisers

Image: Facebook Lawsuit: Users' Private Messages Used to Lure Advertisers

Friday, 03 Jan 2014 02:27 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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A new lawsuit that accuses Facebook of reading users' private messages and using the information to lure advertisers has reignited debate over the social network's privacy policies.

Led by Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley, the class action lawsuit on behalf of all Facebook users claims that the site is profiting off of the information it's pulling from private chat messages — a violation of California's Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

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"Representing to users that the content of Facebook messages is 'private' creates an especially profitable opportunity for Facebook, because users who believe they are communicating on a service free from surveillance are likely to reveal facts about themselves that they would not reveal had they known the content was being monitored," the suit says. "Thus, Facebook has positioned itself to acquire pieces of the users' profiles that are likely unavailable to other data aggregators."

The suit relies on an independent security researcher, which said that Facebook regularly clicks on links in the content of messages.

"Facebook reviews the contents of its users’ private Facebook messages for purposes unrelated to the facilitation of message transmission," the suit alleges. "When a user composes a Facebook message and includes a link to a third party website (a 'URL'), the Company scans the content of the Facebook message, follows the enclosed link, and searches for information to profile the message-sender’s web activity."

Facebook has denied all of the claims.

"We believe the allegations are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously," a spokesperson said in a statement.

This isn’t the first class action lawsuit against Facebook. In 2011, users filed suit and accused the site of using their names and likenesses in "Sponsored Story" ads without their permission and without compensating them.

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