Two Facebook users in the US are bringing a class action against the social media giant, alleging that Facebook sells information contained in private messages to advertisers.
According to a report in the Financial Times, the suit is being issued on behalf of all 166 million Facebook users in the USA. The plaintiffs, Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley, allege that web links sent in private messages are used to augment the profiles of the websites in question in much the same way as clicking on "like" does. This, they say, is evidenced by guidance given by Facebook to developers of add-ons for the site. They also cite research by a Swiss security firm that demonstrates that users sending a private message containing web links will have this activity recorded as part of their web activity profile on Facebook.
The interception and use of data sent in a private message to add to the information held on both users and advertisers, argue Campbell and Hurley, means that the messaging service is not private in the way that it is represented by Facebook. Moreover, they say, using private data in this way also gives Facebook an unfair advantage over other firms that sell data to marketers and advertisers.
The FT reports the suit as saying: "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."
The plaintiffs are seeking compensation of $100 a day for each day of alleged violation or $10,000, for each user claiming to be affected. Facebook has vowed to fight the charges. "We believe the allegations are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously," said a spokesperson in a statement.
Facebook is no stranger to allegations that it misuses its users' data. In August last year a US court ordered the firm to pay $20m in damages in a similar case based around the fact that Facebook's "Sponsored Story" adverts shared users' "likes" of brands in adverts aimed at their friends.
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