Facebook sued for allegedly snooping on users' private messages

Complainants are seeking up to US$10,000 for each affected user, which could potentially cost the social network hundreds of trillions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 11:12am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 4:14pm

Two Facebook users have accused the social networking giant of intercepting its users’ private messages and sharing the data for profit, and are seeking up to US$10,000 in damages for each user affected, a report said.

The complaint, filed in California, alleges that Facebook violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the US state’s laws by scanning the contents of private messages that contain links to a third-party website, searching for information that will shed light on the message sender’s preferences and web usage patterns.

This information is then sold to advertisers and marketers, the December 30 lawsuit said, according to a Bloomberg report on Thursday.

Michael Sobol, the complainants’ attorney, said this constituted a “mechanism for Facebook to surreptitiously gather data in an effort to improve its marketing algorithms and increase its ability to profit from data about Facebook users”, the report said.

They are seeking to be classified as a class-action suit, as the alleged spying affects all users who have sent third-party links to their connections.

However, a spokeswoman for Facebook dismissed the charges as “without merit”, the report said.

With some 1.19 billion active users, the lawsuit, if successful, would potentially cost Facebook in the multitrillions.

Other internet companies have faced privacy lawsuits, amid greater awareness about how individuals’ data can be used – or misused – by governments, spying agencies, hackers or corporations.

Google faced a class-action suit in which it was accused of breaking wiretap laws by using an e-mail scanning feature to facilitate targeted ads for Gmail users.

Microsoft this week became the target of a cyberattack by hackers claiming it was monitoring users’ accounts and selling the data to governments.