Documents show Meta paid for data scraping despite years of denouncing it

The Facebook owner parted ways after learning of data misuse.

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Meta has routinely fought data scrapers, but it also participated in that practice itself — if not necessarily for the same reasons. Bloomberg has obtained legal documents from a Meta lawsuit against a former contractor, Bright Data, indicating that the Facebook owner paid its partner to scrape other websites. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone confirmed the relationship in a discussion with Bloomberg, but said his company used Bright Data to build brand profiles, spot "harmful" sites and catch phishing campaigns, not to target competitors.

Stone added that data scraping could serve "legitimate integrity and commercial purposes" so long as it was done legally and honored sites' terms of service. Meta terminated its arrangement with Bright Data after the contractor allegedly violated company terms when gathering and selling data from Facebook and Instagram.

Neither Bright Data nor Meta is saying which sites they scraped. Bright Data is countersuing Meta in a bid to keep scraping Facebook and Instagram, arguing that it only collects publicly available information and respects both European Union and US regulations.

Meta has spent years suing individuals and companies for scraping its platforms without permission. In some cases, it has accused companies of masking their activities and accessing sensitive details that require logins. Last year, for instance, Meta sued Octopus last year over a tool that reportedly collected sign-ins and took private information like dates of birth and phone numbers.

However, the Bright Data revelation isn't a good look for a company that has faced numerous privacy violation accusations, including some related to scrapers. The EU fined Meta €265 million (about $277 million) last fall for allegedly failing to protect Facebook users against scraping that grabbed and exposed private information. This latest case isn't guaranteed to create further trouble, but certainly won't help Meta's defense.