Class action lawsuit against Facebook contends company violates users’ privacy

On one of the last days of 2013, a class action lawsuit was filed against the social networking giant Facebook for violating users’ privacy rights. On Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, Michael Hurley and Matthew Campbell filed a class action lawsuit against the tech company with the Northern District Court of California, according to

Center of the storm ahead

The lawsuit asserts that the company has been violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act by data-mining in Facebook users’ private messages without consent. Those filing suit claimed that the company scans private messages for URL links “for purposes including, but not limited to, data mining and user profiling,” according to Cnet.

In their class action lawsuit (brought in behalf of all Facebook users in the United States), the plaintiffs note, “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 company is accused of then using that mined data to share with advertisers, according to the Telegraph. At the time this was first discovered (2012), executives at the company asserted that “no private information has been exposed.”

Evidence of misconduct

Evidence of the misbehavior on Facebook’s behalf emanates in part from a report issued by the Swiss security company High-Tech Bridge. After testing a variety of social media sites, High-Tech Bridge discovered that Facebook was among those social networking companies scanning private messages for links (also doing this are Google+ and Twitter, according to the company’s testing results).

Further support for the litigants’ claims are also drawn from media reports about third-party plug-ins. According to Cnet, evidence has been garnered from “stories in the media relating to Facebook’s third party plug-ins for counting ‘likes’ shared through private messages.”

What the lawsuit seeks

Top of the list of what the lawsuit is pursuing is an injunction to stop the social networking site from continuing the regular practice of scanning private messages. In terms of financial compensation, the plaintiffs are asking to court to fine the company $100 per day per user each day it continues to violate the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Bad news on top of bad

This lawsuit comes on the heels of another, equally troubling one filed on behalf of investors during the company’s initial public offering (IPO) period. In that lawsuit, complainants assert that bankers financing the deal left critical information out of the S-1 document filed before a company goes public.

In particular, the lawsuit suggests that more information should have been shared about “the impact growing mobile usage was likely to have on revenues” and “internal forecasts” that the bankers received from management, but did not share, according to the Telegraph. While the bankers and Facebook claim this information was “immaterial,” a US District Court judge in Manhattan did not agree.

Facebook as gunslinger

While the technology segment of the economy has often been compared to the Wild West, even the Wild West had a sheriff and hanging judge to restore order. In the case of Facebook, it’s going to need better explanations for its behavior than it has had to date if it seeks to win both of these pending cases.