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Facebook facing lawsuit over allegedly reading private messages

Facebook being sued for data mining from users' private messages.
Facebook being sued for data mining from users' private messages.
Flickr by Luca Mascaro

Facebook is being sued over allegations that it intercepts and reads each user's private messages in order to share the data with marketers, according to BBC News on Jan. 2.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and claims that Facebook intentionally intercepts and scans users' private messages for shared URLs and other data.

The lawsuit also goes on to say that Facebook shares its findings with data aggregators, advertisers and marketers, and by doing this, Facebook has violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California's privacy laws.

Facebook has allegedly "falsely" represented to its users that content of their messages are "private" and free from surveillance. However, users actually gave Facebook permission to use their data for anything it wants to when signing up for an account.

From Facebook's own statement of rights and responsibilities,

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings:

You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).

The lawsuit, brought on by Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley on behalf of all Facebook users, claims the practice of mining users' data is not only sneaky, but also very lucrative, stating that Facebook has access to information about users that is "likely unavailable to other data aggregators".

Says Campbell and Hurley, "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."

Facebook denies all allegations set forth in the lawsuit, calling them "without merit". According to Facebook, in 2010, changes were made to its algorithm that synchronized its private messaging and chat service. Those changes, reportedly, included enhanced privacy controls.

The class-action lawsuit is asking for the greater of either $100 a day for each day of alleged violations or $10,000 for each user. Facebook added that the company will defend itself "vigorously".

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