Facebook faces another lawsuit

Jan.21.Spec.Facebook2Facebook is facing a lawsuit — again. The popular and almost universally used social media platform has come under fire numerous times due to privacy issues.

The latest lawsuit is led by two plaintiffs — Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley — who say that Facebook has been scanning users’ messages for third party links that provide information and data used in targeted ads.

“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 plaintiffs said in their complaint. “Thus, Facebook has positioned itself to acquire pieces of the users’ profiles that are likely unavailable to other data aggregators.”

The plaintiffs argue that Facebook’s practices contravene the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California’s privacy and unfair competition laws.

Campbell and Hurley are requesting that the case be considered as a class action lawsuit against Facebook on behalf of all users who have sent or received a message with external web links in the past two years. They are seeking $10,000 in damages for each user and looking to ban Facebook’s scanning of private messages.

Michael Sobol, an attorney for the two plaintiffs in this case said that the scanning “is a mechanism for Facebook to surreptitiously gather data in an effort to improve its marketing algorithms and increase its ability to profit from data about Facebook users.”

Facebook’s representation has responded only by saying that “the allegations in this lawsuit have no merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

Graham Cluley, a security expert, defends Facebook, stating that scanning private messages is important and necessary. He argues that Facebook would be failing a “duty of care” to its users if it stopped this practice.  “If you didn’t properly scan and check links there’s a very real risk that spam, scams, phishing attacks and malicious URLs designed to infect recipients’ computers with malware could run rife,” he said. However, the plaintiffs have alleged that scanning private messages has not only been used to maintain security on the site, but also for the profitable sale of user information.

This latest Facebook scandal is among many legal battles the social network has faced. In 2011, Facebook paid $20 million to users for using their data without explicit permission. Last year, Facebook was criticized for a change to its privacy policy that would allow ads to contain the names and profile pictures of users.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, was also involved in high-profile case with his Harvard classmates, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who claimed that Zuckerberg stole their idea for Facebook. Zuckerberg settled for $65 million.

It seems that legal trouble is always in the cards for Facebook. Although we cannot forsee the outcome of the most recent lawsuit, we can expect that Facebook isn’t going anywhere.

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