Facebook has found itself back in court surrounding allegations of violating federal privacy laws by scanning private messages. According to the class action lawsuit filed last Wednesday in North California District court.
The allegations center around Facebook’s practice of scanning and logging URLs sent through the sites private messaging service. Facebook claims that the scans serve a number of important purposes, including scanning for malware and industry standard searches for child pornography.
Plaintiffs allege that the routine scans are for marketing purposes and other user-targeting data. The claim extends to the idea that storing the records in a searchable form is in violation of both the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California Invasion of Privacy Act.
Facebook disputes these allegations saying that private messages are scanned in bulk, and maintains the URL data is anonymized and only used in aggregate form.
Throughout the discovery process the plaintiffs have gained significant access to Facebook source code and engineers; however much of the resulting exhibits are still under seal. Records made available to the public suggest that the company does indeed maintain a persistent record of links embedded in private messages.
The problem lies with the ambiguity surrounding the difficulty of tracing the link back to the message sender. In response Facebook describes the records as
“more akin to The New York Times publishing a list of bestselling books … the anonymized and aggregated data is used to indicate the popularity of information.”
Facebook describes the potential privacy violations suit as “a technical attack on basic elements of computer programming” the company asserts.
Further investigation has continued to cast doubt on Facebook’s claims, as the lawsuit progresses it does not look good for the multi-billion-dollar company.
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