Facebook faces a class-action lawsuit filed in a Californian federal court for scanning private messages of its subscribers to provide data to marketers.
According to the complaint registered in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, Facebook gleaned plaintiffs’ private messages containing URLs (website addresses) and then searched those websites for “purposes including but not limited to data mining and user profiling.”
The aim of gathering this information is allegedly to pass it on to third parties such as data aggregators, advertisers and marketers, according to the complaint.
This practice is in violation of California privacy laws and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
The plaintiffs cite third-party research as evidence that Facebook is scanning and intercepting private messages for their contents.
In the summer of 2013, High-Tech Bridge, a Swiss company, said it used a dedicated Web server and generated a secret URL for each of the fifty major social networks, free email systems and Web services in order to determine how honestly they respected user privacy.
The complaint explains that High-Tech Bridge then used the private messaging function of each social network, embedded a unique URL within each message, and monitored all incoming HTTP requests to determine whether they might be clicked on.
Facebook accused of passing on private data to advertisers
Facebook was caught scanning URLs without users’ knowledge, the complaint claims.
The plaintiffs, Michael Hurley and Matthew Campbell, both Facebook users, say they are suing on behalf of all American Facebook users who have received or sent personal Facebook messages containing a URL.
Matthew Campbell is an Arkansas lawyer and political blogger, he is the author of the Blue Hog Report, a muckraking site.
Three years ago Facebook proudly launched an integrated email-messaging service that combined SMS, chat, email and in-service messaging. The company emphasized the privacy features of the new messaging service.
The complaint claims that Facebook had assured users of the service that the contents of private messages would be viewed only by the sender and receiver, and no other party, including Facebook.
In an emailed statement to PC World, Facebook wrote “We believe the allegations are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”