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26 Nov, 2019 21:08

‘Imposing collective punishment’: Employees of Israeli spyware company NSO Group countersue Facebook for deplatforming

‘Imposing collective punishment’: Employees of Israeli spyware company NSO Group countersue Facebook for deplatforming

Eight employees of infamous Israeli spyware company NSO Group are countersuing Facebook after it took their accounts offline while suing NSO for spying on thousands of users of its subsidiary WhatsApp through a security exploit.

The current and former NSO Group employees slammed Facebook’s “barbarous and unilateral” decision to block their private accounts “just because the company they work for or previously worked for was sued by Facebook,” claiming in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday that the deplatforming violates Facebook’s own terms of service. The platform, the suit says, is only allowed to block users who have “severely or repeatedly violated” its terms of service.

Also on rt.com Pegasus returns? WhatsApp users on alert after Facebook warned of ANOTHER vulnerability exploited by hackers

Facebook is also accused of violating the employees’ privacy rights by using their personal information to identify them as NSO employees “in service of imposing ‘collective punishment’ on them, in the form of blocking their personal accounts,” the suit continues, claiming that Israeli law dictates that users’ data belongs to them – not to Facebook.

The eight employees were blocked last month on the same day Facebook launched its lawsuit against NSO Group, charging the spyware company with exploiting a vulnerability in encrypted messenger WhatsApp in order to spy on some 1,400 users.

The suit “warranted disabling relevant accounts… for security reasons, including preventing additional attacks,” Facebook said in a statement to Motherboard on Tuesday, defending the deactivation of the NSO profiles by pointing out that it was NSO who violated WhatsApp’s terms of service – as well as US law – by installing its invasive Pegasus spyware on users’ phones without their knowledge or consent.

Pegasus allows a user to slurp up any and all data on a target’s phone, from contact lists, passwords, messages, even input from the camera and microphone. While NSO claims its software is only sold to carefully-vetted government clients, digital rights group CitizenLab has seen it crop up on targets including a close friend of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the wife of a murdered Mexican journalist, and numerous human rights campaigners and lawyers – indicating the powerful tool has gotten into unsavory hands. Additionally, while NSO has previously hinted that it has little knowledge or control of what is done with its software after purchase, documents included in the WhatsApp lawsuit indicate that at least in some cases the company provides ‘tech support’ up to and including helping clients craft a message their target will click on, infecting their phone with the spyware. 

Also on rt.com Facebook ordered to cough up Zuckerberg emails after stonewalling California privacy probe

Facebook itself has been hauled into court for snooping on users, recently paying out a record $5 billion fine to the US Federal Trade Commission for failing to abide by the provisions of a previous privacy agreement. It is currently under investigation in most US states for misuse of personal information and has come under fire for sharing user data with third-party corporations, app developers, and even – in the case of hundreds of millions of phone numbers left unencrypted on a server – random web-surfers. It’s hard to tell which company poses more of a risk to the average person’s privacy.

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