Facebook’s having another day in court: Two users have accused the social network of systemically reading private messages. The complaint, filed in a federal court in San Jose, California, alleges Facebook uses the information found in private messages to supply advertisers and marketers with ways to better target users with commercial materials.
The lawsuit claims Facebook violates both the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California’s privacy and unfair competition laws, by scanning private messages for third-party links and analyzing those links to add data to profiles used in targeted ads. Basically, they’re saying Facebook goes through your mail, looks for links, and then adds whatever they find in those links to a user profile on you to sell to advertisers.
The complaint rails against Facebook’s alleged duplicity. “Representing to users that the content of Facebook messages is ‘private” creates an especially profitable opportunity for Facebook, because users who believe themselves to be communicating on a service free from surveillance are likely to reveal facts about themselves they would not reveal if they knew the content was being monitored,” the complaint reads. So a user might post about antique pens on his wall to look smart but have a conversation going with his pervy friend about the online bondage shops they like to frequent – if he’s wondering why the ads on his Facebook page seem suspiciously kinky, it would fit with this case’s accusations.
This claim, that Facebook deliberately misleads its users into thinking that private messages are private, and then goes and finds links in the messages and gives the information to third parties, makes Facebook look straight-up villainous. And Facebook vehemently denies that they’re true. “The allegations in this lawsuit have no merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” a Facebook spokesperson told Digital Trends via email.
We’ll see how the lawsuit unfolds; this could be the privacy straw that breaks the annoyed users’ back for some if the accusations are proven correct (which wouldn’t surprise me in the least – Facebook has eroded user privacy for years).
You can read the entire complaint yourself: