Facebook Sued in Class Action Over Private Messages


By now, many people are aware that the things they post online are public. However, most of us still expect the private messages that we send back and forth over the internet to maintain a certain level of privacy. Facebook allegedly violated this right by intercepting private messages which were exchanged via the social media site. According to the complaint, Facebook allegedly scanned private messages which contained URLs “for purposes including but not limited to data mining and user profiling.” The lawsuit was filed by two Facebook users who sent messages via the social networking site which contained URLs. The plaintiffs allege that Facebook’s practice of scanning private messages and sharing the information it finds violates the Electronic Consumer Protection Act, California’s Invasion of Privacy Act, and the California Unfair Competition Law.

The complaint points to the fact that “Facebook touts the privacy of its messaging function as ‘unprecedented’ in terms of user control and the prevention of unwanted contact.” Contrary to this representation, the lawsuit alleges that “When a user composes a Facebook message and includes a link to a third party website (a “URL”), the Company scans the content of the Facebook message, follows the enclosed link, and searches for information to profile the message-sender’s web activity. The lawsuit further asserts that Facebook does not do this for the purpose of facilitating the transmission of the messages, but uses the information for its own profit by sharing it with third parties, such as advertisers, marketers, and other collectors of data.

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s practice of representing its messages as private, while violating that privacy, is especially harmful because users who are led to believe that their communications are private are likely to share information that they would not otherwise provide. This gives Facebook an advantage over their competitors in acquiring information about its users.

To demonstrate how profitable this profiling and data sharing is for Facebook, the complaint noted that, in 2011, the social media company earned $2.7 billion through targeted advertising sales.

The complaint goes on to state that a recent study, conducted at the University of Cambridge, found that “highly sensitive personal attributes,” such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious views, personality traits, intelligence, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age and gender were predictable with high degrees of success just from what people liked online. Thus racial discrimination could be applied to prevent some candidates from seeing loans that might be advantageous to them, and housing renters and sellers could potentially use big data to discriminate based on gender, all while circumventing the fair housing laws.”

The suit was filed in the Northern District of California on behalf of all U.S. users who have sent or received private messages that included a URL in the message. The lawsuit is seeking class certification, an injunction against Facebook to cease their practice of scanning private messages for URLs, and statutory damages, including $100 for each day that Facebook violated the Electronic Communications Act, for each class member. Although the plaintiffs do not yet know how many people are eligible to participate in the class, they do believe that, once all of the damages for the class members are totaled, they will exceed $5,000,000.

Our Chicago class action lawyers near Joilet and Barrington bring class action, privacy law and individual consumer rights lawsuits. We bring suit for many types of class action lawsuits for consumer fraud issues and for unpaid overtime, junk fax, privacy rights violations, property damages due to pollution, false advertising and other claims. Super Lawyers has selected our Kane, DuPage and Cook County class action lawyers as among the top 5% in Illinois. Our Chicago class action attorneys only collect our fees if we win or settle your case. For a free consultation call us at our toll free number 630-333-0333 or contact us on the web by clicking here.

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