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Facebook facing class-action lawsuit over unauthorized message scanning

Timothy J. Seppala, @timseppala
December 25, 2014
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We know: Despite its best attempts at proving otherwise, Facebook and privacy have an oil/water reputation -- the latest legal news regarding the company won't help that any, either. A California judge recently ruled that The Social Network will face a class-action lawsuit following accusations that it peeked at users' private messages without consent to deliver targeted advertising. Facebook tried to dismiss the claims, saying that it didn't break any laws and that the alleged message scans were protected under an exception in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, according to Reuters. Which one specifically? That these "interceptions" are lawful if they occur over the "ordinary course" of a service provider's business. The presiding judge countered, saying that Zuckerberg and Co. failed to offer explanation of how the scans fell under the website's ordinary course of business.

As the lawsuit stands, it'd benefit any Facebook user that'd sent or received links via the site's private message system in the past two years, as reported by Bloomberg. We'd be remiss if we left out the possible pay-out, though: "as much as" $10,000 in damages for each user. Multiply that by Facebook's billion-plus users, carry the one and you come out to a whole lot of money. In less exciting news, the plaintiffs also want the social giant to stop scanning messages moving forward. Sound familiar? Hopefully so, because Google is under similar (but not class-action) legal scrutiny for message scanning of its own. The results of both of these cases will almost assuredly have big effects for how we communicate on the web moving forward, and you can bet we'll be following them closely in the coming year.

Update: A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the suit.

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