Documents filed in California as part of a class action lawsuit are claiming that Facebook intercepted and scanned messages for information about its billion users.
The class action is being led by two Facebook users in the US, and is being brought on behalf of all users located within the US who have sent or received private Facebook messages that included a URL (webpage link) in the content of the message.
Facebook accumulates about 200 petabytes of data per year and is currently growing by around half a petabyte a day ::::
Matthew Campbell of Arkansas and Michael Hurley of Oregon are alleging the social network giant promises users differing levels of privacy based on whether they make a public post, send a private message or chat, but that the company scans those private communications for purposes unrelated to sending them.
“Contrary to its representations, ‘private’ Facebook messages are systematically intercepted by the company in an effort to learn the contents of the users’ communications,” the plaintiffs claim in court documents. “When a user composes a Facebook message and includes a link to a third party website, 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.”
The lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s actions are in breach of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Californian privacy and competition laws.
To allay user concerns on privacy, Facebook enables users to choose their own privacy settings and choose “who can see specific parts of their profile.”
Facebook is free to users, it generates all its revenue from advertising. According to the company, Facebook requires a user name and profile picture to be accessible by everyone, however users can control who sees any other information they wish to share, as well as who can find them in searches, through their privacy settings.
According to comScore, an internet marketing research company, Facebook collects as much data from its visitors as Google and Microsoft, but considerably less than Yahoo!. In 2010, the security team began expanding its efforts to reduce the risks to users’ privacy, but privacy concerns remain.
in November 2007 Facebook launched Facebook Beacon, which was an ultimately failed attempt advertise to friends of users using the knowledge of what purchases friends made. Since March 2012, Facebook’s usage of its user data has come under much close scrutiny.
In August 2013 High-Tech Bridge published a study showing that links included in Facebook messaging service messages were being accessed by Facebook for its own purposes.
The 2 users suing Facebook also alleged that this behaviour gives Facebook an unfair advantage over many of its competitors.
“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 lawsuit alleges. “Thus, Facebook has positioned itself to acquire pieces of the users’ profiles that are likely unavailable to other data aggregators.”
In the past two years, Facebook has paid more than $US30 million to settle law suits relating to privacy. However, Facebook says it will be defending this class action.
“We believe the allegations are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” a company spokesperson said.
In November 2011, Facebook agreed to settle US Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers by failing to keep privacy promises.
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