Lawsuit Filed Over Facebook's Alleged Private Message Scans
January 3, 2014

Lawsuit Filed Over Facebook’s Alleged Private Message Scans

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

Two individuals in the US District Court in Northern District of California have filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Facebook scans private messages in order to serve relevant ads.

The lawsuit is based on claims that when users share a URL in a private message, that URL is picked up by Facebook and used to put together a user's profile, BBC News reports.

"It alleges that Facebook systematically intercepts messages to mine user data and profits by sharing it with data aggregators, advertisers and marketers," the article said.

The lawsuit is looking for a remedy of either $100 a day for each day of alleged violations or $10,000 for each user, whichever is greater.

Facebook has yet to release an official statement.

However, Jackie Rooney, a spokeswoman for Facebook, said the company regards the allegations as "without merit," according to a Bloomberg News report.

"We will defend ourselves vigorously," the social network added.

Contrary to its representations, “private” Facebook messages are systematically intercepted by the company in an effort to learn the contents of the users’ communications, claims the lawsuit.

In the course of the last year, independent security researchers discovered that Facebook reviews the contents of its users’ private Facebook messages for purposes unrelated to the facilitation of message transmission. When a user composes a Facebook message and includes a link to a third party website, the network scans the content of the message, follows the enclosed link, and searches for information to profile the message-sender’s web activity.

Google over the years has faced several complaints about scanning messages sent and received in Gmail, which help the company serve targeted ads as well as weed out spam messages. Such was the case in a recent lawsuit filed in California alleging that Google's policies of email snooping violate the state's privacy law. The company posted in court documents that "it's customers can't expect them to 'not' read and scan their emails," the redOrbit article said.

Like Google, Facebook provides its services to users for free in exchange for serving ads. The now public Facebook has to answer to its investors, and has faced pressure to monetize the site. Some of those measures have focused on mobile and games, though other practices such as serving targeted ads in the News Feed and message page are also part of its monetization plans.