Facebook sued over alleged private message mining

By The Rainbow

Facebook is facing a potential class-action lawsuit over allegedly intercepting data from private messages.

Facebook users are suing the social media company claiming it improperly scans private messages for data that it uses to improve its marketing algorithms.

The lawsuit, filed by Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley in Northern California this week, claims that “Facebook mines any and all transmissions across its network, including those it labels ‘private,’ in order to gather any and all morsels of information it can about its users,” Re/Code reports.

In the filing, which seeks class-action status, Campbell and Hurley claim the alleged interception of private information violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, as well as other California privacy laws. The suit suggests that some 166 million U.S. Facebook users would be able to join the class, according to CNN.

This isn’t the first time Menlo Park-based Facebook Inc. has dealt with privacy litigation. The company last year spent $20 million to settle a class action case involving its targeted advertising.

Facebook is being sued over allegations that it intercepts private messages written by its users and shares the data with its advertisers.

It is financially advantageous to capitalise on personal information collected from users. Selling that data is highly lucrative according to the suit.

In the United States, bdata-driven marketing was reportedly worth $156b in 2012, in Europe it is even higher.

A report by Boston Consulting Group estimates a total 'digital identity value' of Europeans in 2011 as €315B, which is expected to reach €1 trillion by 2020.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook looks at messages containing hyperlinks, follows the link and profiles the web activity of the user. If it finds a link to a website that also has Facebook's social plugin, Facebook registers up to two Likes for the web page via the social media plugin.

This behaviour violates the Electronic Communications Privacy act and the California Unfair Competition Law ('UCL').

Giving permission
But you gave Facebook permission to use your data when you signed up for the account…

When users sign up for a Facebook account they effectively give carte blanche for Facebook to do what it likes with their data. Facebook's statement of rights and responsibilities says:

'For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings:

You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).'

Image: Facebook
By “content” Facebook means 'anything you or other users post on Facebook'. By “information” Facebook means 'facts and other information about you, including actions taken by users and non-users who interact with Facebook'.

Image: Facebook
In signing up for a Facebook account, you have effectively permitted Facebook to use any data you enter on the site for anything it wants to.

And Facebook is not the only company to do this.
Google reads your emails
When you sign up for a Gmail account you allow Google free use of anything you write to the site. Google can do basically anything it wants to do with your content. You agreed to its Terms of Service when you created the account.

This applies to other Google services such as Picassa, Google docs, YouTube or Google+. You have granted Google similar rights over that content just by using its services.

Google's Terms of Service updated in November 2013 state:

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, … reproduce, modify, create derivative works (…. adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), …, publish, …, publicly display and distribute such content.

The rights that you grant in this licence are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.