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Facebook sued for invading users’ privacy

Published Jan 3rd, 2014 11:55AM EST
Facebook Class Action Suit Messages Privacy

Two Facebook users this week filed a class action complaint against the social network, Ars Technica reports, alleging that the messaging system inside Facebook is not as private as it’s advertised to be, and that the company actively mines for data from personal messages and generates likes based on the content exchanged between users. Facebook described its messaging system as “unprecedented,” when it comes to privacy controls, but the filing alleges that the company is actually accessing data gathered from chats without the user consent.

“Instead to increase user’s comfort with the website and, thereby, increase the amount of information they share, the company makes assurances of user control over privacy settings and messaging options,” the filing says. “In reality, Facebook never intended to provide this level of confidentiality. Instead, Facebook mines any and all transmissions across its network, including those it labels ‘private,’ in order to gather any and all morsels of information it can about its users.”

The filing further explains how Facebook can access the links contained in private messages exchanges and assign likes on the site’s respective Facebook page in case it discovers “Like” buttons on that website. Furthermore, the plaintiffs say that Facebook “uses a combination of software and human screening to comb through private messages,” in order to use the available data for various purposes including selling it to interested third parties. According to them, while Facebook does explain what user information it receives, it never explains how it “scans, mines and manipulates the content of users’ private messages.”

The plaintiffs seek compensation – the greater of either $100 for each day of violation, or $10,000 – as well as statutory damages of either $50,000 per class member or three times the amount of actual damages.

In addition to the class action suit against Facebook, a petition on Care2 The Petition Site is asking Facebook to “stop stalking our unposted thoughts” on the network. The petition was just a few hundred signatures short of its 28,000 goal at the time of this writing, and it comes in response to the recent discovery that Facebook keeps track of everything a user writes while inside the social network, regardless of whether the message or status update is posted or discarded.

“The fact that they are doing this is scary and crazy, remember Facebook has been sharing data with the NSA! We have all written posts and then decided against posting them for various reasons. Now we learn Facebook is looking at these posts. If they choose to save them as they claim their policies enable them to, it could mean that every key stroke entered at Facebook could be sent to a government agency,” the petition says. “On top of all this is the fact that users chose not to post these comments so they should not be seen by anyone. This is a breach of privacy that goes beyond user-beware, as users don’t even know their posts are being viewed.”

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.