Facebook Could Be Facing A Mega Class Action Lawsuit Over Private Messages

January 8, 2014  |  

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When some Facebook users learned the social media giant might by using their private messages to lure in advertisers they were none too happy. And now Facebook could be facing a massive class action lawsuit over its private messaging function.

“Two Facebook users are taking the company to court over claims it mines private messages for data that is then sold to third parties,” reports CNN. But Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley want the suit to be made a class action, and suggest that as many as 166 million Facebook users in the U.S. would be eligible to take part.

The lawsuit was filed  in a U.S. district court in Northern California and alleges that Facebook has been scanning messages between users labeled as “private” for links and other data over the past two years that can be sold to advertisers, marketers and data aggregators. The suit also claims this is done without proper disclosure or the consent of users. According to Campbell and Hurley, intercepting and using links included in private messages violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, as well as California privacy and unfair competition laws.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has been in hot water with users over its advertising techniques. It previously settled a class action over targeted advertising for $20 million, reports CIO.

And CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made controversial statements about how people shouldn’t be doing the things they want to keep secret in the first place.

The plaintiffs are seeking as much as $10,000 in damages for each affected user. So if the court approves a class action status, it could amount to billions and severely hobble the company.

Greg Sterling, a principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, told CIO the suit seems to have some potential for success on its face. And if the class is certified it could mean billions in potential liability for Facebook.

“However, it’s still premature to predict any outcome. Facebook has said it will aggressively defend against the claims,” Sterling said.

The scanning of private messages was initially discovered back in late 2012. And at the time, the company seemed to have acknowledged the practice, Sterling noted. But he said the question is whether the company is deceptively counting URLs in those messages as “likes” and then including that information in its ad-targeting algorithm as the complaint alleges.

So far Facebook has yet to comment.

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