After facing a great deal of criticism last year over its abrupt privacy changes, Facebook is off to a controversial start in 2014.
Two Facebook users have sued the social network for intercepting and profiteering from private messages and other sensitive data by sharing information with advertisers and marketers.
In a class action lawsuit filed on December 30, the plaintiffs argue that Facebook misleads its users when it uses the term “private” for its messaging service, given the way the company treats the info contained within those messages.
The complainants have also described the entire process in their lawsuit.
Apparently, when a user sends in a link to a contact– such as in the screen grab below – Facebook immediately intercepts the conversation and crawls to the linked page.
If the host site of the shared link is a Facebook associate or advertiser and contains a “Like” option –as shown in the image below – the social network registers the “private message” as a “Like” on that website.
To cut a long story short, a the third party enjoys benefits while Facebook breaks into your private messages and scans all the information you do not want to share publicly, something it has never disclosed to its users.
The following is an excerpt from the actual court complaint – obtained by tech website Arstechnica:
“Representing to users that the content of Facebook messages is “private” creates an especially profitable opportunity for Facebook, because users who believe they are communicating on a service free from surveillance are likely to reveal facts about themselves that they would not reveal had they known the content was being monitored. Thus, Facebook has positioned itself to acquire pieces of the users, profiles that are likely unavailable to other data aggregators.”
The lawsuit is reportedly aiming to bar Facebook from further interception and seeking as much as $10,000 in damages for each user.
Although the case has prompted debate over privacy on the social media platform that boasts more than one billion users worldwide, this is not the first time such a controversy involving Facebook has emerged.
A U.S. judge in August last year approved a deal in which Facebook paid $20 million for using members "likes" as endorsements for ads.
The following month, policy changes affecting advertising were introduced, granting Facebook the right to use any content posted on the social network in any ads or site content, without the users’ permission.
In 2010, a Wall Street Journal investigation found that the site was handing over user data to advertisers including names and user IDs. Eventually Facebook paid $20M to compensate users who claimed it had used their data without explicit permission.