Facebook has found itself in hot water for the umpteenth time, and once again it’s due to alleged privacy violations. So what has the social media giant done this time around, you ask? Well, all of the ‘private’ messages sent to your friends aren’t nearly as private as you might have hoped, for Facebook apparently has this habit of scanning them all, in order to obtain precious advertising data.
The accusations come from two Facebook users, named as Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley, who claim in a lawsuit filed on Monday that the company is surreptitiously scanning user’s private messages in order to detect links that people send to one another. Facebook does this so that it can increase the number of “Likes” on those websites, with the result being that Facebook becomes more popular with advertisers.
Central to the plaintiff’s case is recent research from a Swiss security firm, which discovered that the number of “Likes” on a web page increases every time a link to it is sent via PM – this, they claim, is proof that Facebook is lying when it claims that the content of private messages won’t be shared with third parties. Naturally, Facebook has rejected these claims.
“We believe the allegations are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” said a Facebook in a statement to Bloomberg.
The complaint further accuses Facebook of “reading” people’s messages in order to obtain data it can sell to data brokers, which in turn supply all manner of information about consumers to insurance, credit card and other companies.
Most likely, the truth is far less sensational than what the plaintiffs claim. While the research does seem to prove that Facebook is scanning the content of messages, it doesn’t amount to anyone actually ‘reading’ them. Rather, what Facebook does is similar to what Google does when it scans people’s emails in Gmail – it does so to pick out keywords that allow it to serve up relevant ads. However, in the case of Google, one federal judge considered this to be a violation of the Wiretap Act, although the company is appealing against this verdict.
The case against Facebook is based on the same law, and is more or less the same accusation – that the company tapped into user’s private messages without permission, and has therefore violated the Wiretap Act.
While the plaintiffs may actually have a chance of winning against Facebook, it’s unlikely they’ll actually achieve very much. They’re said to be seeking $100 per day in compensation for each of the 166 million Facebook users in the US, but usually in such cases whatever sum is awarded gets immediately carved up between activist groups and class action lawyers – which means that the actual users who’ve been spied upon are unlikely to receive any compensation.