Facebook Sued For Storing, Sharing Private Message Data

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A lawsuit against social media giant Facebook alleges the company has been secretly capturing and storing the contents of users’ private messages in order to share that information with third parties to craft targeted advertising tailored to appeal to members’ most intimate tastes.

In a case that could upend private individuals’ understanding of what the promise of “privacy” from the for-profit sector means, the suit claims Facebook scans the content of private messages and then tracks any web links the sender may have included to profile that sender’s online activities. Although Facebook operates across the globe, the allegations, if true, mean the company is clearly violating the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act whenever it stores private user content that originates in the United States.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are asking the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., to certify the case as a class action that would advocate for users of the website who have included web links in their Facebook-hosted private message communications anytime in the past two years. The plaintiffs also want Facebook to admit to, and end, the practice, and to pay as much as $10,000 in damages for each verified instance.

The complaint against Facebook notes the evident profit motive behind the company’s assurance to users that their information is private, when, in fact, the company allegedly exempts itself from its own promise.

“Representing to users that the content of Facebook messages is ‘private’ creates an especially profitable opportunity for Facebook,” it reads. “…This practice is not done to facilitate the transmission of users’ communications via Facebook, but because it enables Facebook to mine user data and profit from those data by sharing them with third parties — namely, advertisers, marketers, and other data aggregators.”

Facebook has denied the allegations. Company leaders were among several representatives from the tech sector who recently chided President Barack Obama for failing to take seriously the National Security Agency’s onerous demands for private information from corporate social media and electronic service providers — like Facebook.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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