Earlier this week U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton passed down a ruling that Facebook Inc must face a class action lawsuit in which the social media site is accused of violating its users' privacy by scanning the content of messages they sent to other users for advertising purposes.
At the heart of the lawsuit, which was initially filed in 2013, are allegations that Facebook actively scanned the content of private messages sent between users for links to websites and would then count any links in a tally of "likes" of the pages. These "likes" would then be used to compile user profiles, which in turn were used for building a database that was used for delivering targeted advertising to its users.
In basic terms, Facebook would use tools to read private messages for the most popular links being shared across its own site, even if they were sites or pages not within Facebook. That information would then be used to target advertising to each user. This data most likely would also be shown to prospective advertisers to help bolster sales of advertising via Facebook allowing them to profit from your personal information.
The complaint, filed by Facebook user Matthew Campbell, alleged that the scanning of these private messages violated both federal and California state law. Facebook had originally argued that the alleged scanning of its users' messages was covered by an exception under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act for interceptions by service providers occurring in the ordinary course of business. However, judge Hamilton dismissed those claims stating that Facebook had "not offered a sufficient explanation of how the challenged practice falls within the ordinary course of its business."
The case is Campbell v. Facebook Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 13-5996 and seeks class action status on behalf of all U.S. users who sent or received private messages that included website addresses in their content. As reported by Bloomberg the suit is seeking as much as $10,000 in damages for each user and could benefit all users of the site.
Facebook is not alone in facing these allegations. Lawsuits against Internet companies and social networks are multiplying as more users become more aware of how much personal information these sites are collecting, how they are using it and how they are revealing it to third parties, often without end user knowledge. Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. also are facing accusations of intercepting communications for their profit at the expense of users or non-users.