Facebook Accused of Intercepting Private Messages for Profit

Facebook Scanning Private Messages

Social media giant Facebook is being sued in a class action lawsuit alleging that they violated member’s privacy rights by intercepting private messages without consent. Then Facebook is accused of mining the private data to profile them for profit from the information they obtained.

Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley filed the lawsuit on Monday with the Northern District Court in California. Campbell and Hurley accuse Facebook of farming Facebook private messages for web addresses in them “for purposes including and not limiting data mining and user profiling.” The law suit alleges that Facebook violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act with their practice as it allows them an unfair advantage on their competition.

A Facebook spokesperson, Jackie Rooney, said that Facebook believes that the allegations by the two men are without any merit. Rooney also said Facebook will defend themselves vigorously in a court of law.

The lawsuit cites several stories and media articles focusing on plug-ins for third-parties for counting Facebook “likes” that are shared through Facebook’s private messages. The Campbell and Hurley suit also cites the Swiss security company, High-Tech Bridge and their report on Facebook scanning private messages.

In the suit the plaintiffs stated that Facebook was representing to their users that the messaging feature of their product was private. That representation allowed users to believe they were totally surveillance free from being intercepted and users were more likely to reveal facts about themselves than if they would have thought the messaging feature was being monitored. Campbell and Hurley feel this gives the accused an unfair advantage to use this data for their own profitability. This data was often shared with Facebook’s advertisers and marketers.

The suit alleges that when I user includes a link to an external third-party web site; the message gets its content scanned by Facebook. Facebook then follows the link and begins to search for information on the message sender’s web activity.

An attorney for Campbell and Hurley’s case, Michael Sobol, said that Facebook’s scanning process is their mechanism to surreptitiously gather data. The data is gathered by Facebook in their efforts to improve algorithms in their marketing to ultimately increase their ability to profit from the data they’ve gathered from their Facebook users.

The suit asks the court to certify them as a class action suit that includes all Facebook users that have sent or received a private message containing any web links. The lawsuit also asks that Facebook cease their interception of private messages and seek to gain as much as $10,000 for each user’s damages.

It is still unknown when the case of Facebook intercepting private messages for profit will go to court. The case has been filed as Matthew Campbell v. Facebook Inc., 13-5996, U.S. District Court in Northern District of San José, California. Facebook is not the only big tech company to be accused of violating privacy rights. Google Inc., LinkedIn Corp., and Yahoo! Inc. have all recently had to face new lawsuits on allegedly intercepting communications for profit at a non-user or user’s expense.

By Brent Matsalla