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26 Dec, 2014 16:54

Judge says Facebook must face class action lawsuit over message scanning

Judge says Facebook must face class action lawsuit over message scanning

Facebook must face a class action lawsuit filed in California claiming the social networking site sifted through users’ private messages for targeted advertising purposes, violating both federal and state law.

Lead plaintiff Matthew Campbell and two others sued Facebook in December 2013, alleging the company scanned user messages for web links, translating them to “likes” on the user’s Facebook profile. Data lifted from the private messages was then used for targeted advertising, the plaintiffs claimed.

"Facebook's practice of scanning the content of these messages violates the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA also referred to as the Wiretap Act), as well as California's Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA), and section 17200 of California's Business and Professions Code," the plaintiffs said.

On Tuesday, US District Judge Phyllis Hamilton denied Facebook’s motion to dismiss the ECPA and CIPA section 631 claims, while granting dismissal of claims pertaining to section 632 of the CIPA and section 17200 of the California Business & Professions Code, according to Tech Times.

Facebook "has not offered a sufficient explanation of how the challenged practice falls within the ordinary course of its business," Judge Hamilton said.

The court said Facebook’s terms of service is too vague to surmise whether users ultimately consented to the company’s scan of their private messages for advertising uses.

Plaintiffs said they have a reasonable expectation of privacy within their user-to-user messaging.

Though it said it stopped the practice in question in late 2012, Facebook said in an October motion hearing, according to Courthouse News, that it has the right to analyze user messages, as it still does to some degree protect against viruses and helps filter out spam.

"The fact that Facebook can configure its code to scan message content for certain purposes, but not for others, leaves open the possibility that the challenged practice constitutes a separate 'interception,’” Judge Hamilton wrote on Tuesday.

"Facebook moves to strike plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief, arguing that it ceased the challenged practice 'nearly two years ago,'" Hamilton wrote. "However, plaintiffs have adequately alleged that there is a 'sufficient likelihood' that Facebook could resume the practice, so the court denies Facebook's request to strike the injunctive relief at this time.”

Neither Facebook nor attorneys for the plaintiffs responded to Reuters’ immediate request for comment.

In addition to Facebook, Yahoo! and Earthlink have faced similar lawsuits. Google’s Gmail is currently appealing accusations that it violated the Wiretap Act as it scanned Gmail messages for targeted-ad purposes.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Facebook is fighting off a class action lawsuit filed in August, which claims Facebook violated users' privacy by cooperating with the National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance program.