Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
Plaintiff Class Seeks Certification in Facebook Message Scanning Privacy Lawsuit

Plaintiff Class Seeks Certification in Facebook Message Scanning Privacy Lawsuit

At a March 16 hearing, U.S. District Chief Judge Phyllis Hamilton heard arguments from user and company attorneys with regard to whether or not she should certify a class action against Facebook Inc. for claims of privacy violations. Plaintiffs accuse the social media giant of unlawfully scanning users’ personal and private direct messages without their consent to capture data on web links.

“Every time a private message is sent with a URL attachment, Facebook intercepts it, analyzes it and creates a user-specific data structure out of the content of the private message,” explained Lieff Cabraser partner and chair of the firm’s consumer protection practice group Michael W. Sobol. The social media platform then “uses that data structure to inform itself and to inform third parties how to improve marketing” as well as to “boost their standing among their competitors.”

Lead plaintiff Matthew Campbell sued Facebook in 2013 for this misrepresentation of the privacy of direct messages, claiming that the URL information Facebook received from site-scanned messages was used to increase the number of “Likes” on external third-party websites. The complaint alleges that Facebook mines aspects of user data and profits from that data by sharing it with third parties – namely, advertisers, marketers, and other data aggregators. Plaintiffs argue this violates the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, as well as California privacy and unfair competition laws.

“In a company where they have become the predominant social platform in the U.S. if not the world – where they intend to be the primary way that people interact online – how people communicate and how people share information on the Internet is incredibly important,” stated Sobol.

According to Courthouse News, “the case, which will have major implications for privacy in Internet communications, is the first in which a party has claimed that Facebook users have property rights related to their Facebook messages.”

Facebook describes its communication options for users as “[d]epending on whom you’d like to share with,” however; this description for the social media platform’s privacy of its messaging function lands in a grey area.

“I don’t think they’ve done enough on this record to imply consent, because the truth is [the way the system works] is a secret,” said Sobol.

Contact a Facebook Message Scanning Class Action Attorney

On December 30, 2013, Facebook users represented by Lieff Cabraser and co-counsel filed a nationwide class action lawsuit alleging that Facebook intercepts certain private data in users’ personal and private email messages on the social network and profits by sharing that information with third parties.

If you wish to report any alleged privacy violations by Facebook or other internet companies, please contact us through the case page. All information you provide will be held confidential and there is no charge or obligation for our review of your complaint.

Learn more about the Facebook Message Scanning Class Action.