Facebook sinks deeper into hot water

A US federal judge calls Facebook's privacy policy "so wrong".

illustration of ocean liner RMS Lusitania sinking

Tuesday, 10 September, 2019

Facebook lose a motion to dismiss the class action lawsuit against the Cambridge Analytica data leak. They also face further litigation for “widespread” data harvesting by private companies.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled that Facebook will face a class action suit from users in the UK and USA. Facebook has been sharing personal data without user’s consent for over a decade.

This was brought to light last year when a whistleblower detailed the extent that data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA), had been harvesting profile information from Facebook. Overall, more than 87 million users had their data stolen by CA. This information was used to influence political campaigns, most notably that of US Senator Ted Cruz.

Facebook filed a motion to dismiss class action lawsuits against the company, stating the suits “do not support any legal claims”. They added that users did not suffer any “tangible” harm and that sharing information with friends on Facebook was itself a forfeit of privacy.

This motion was rejected by US courts.

Facebook’s motion to dismiss is littered with assumptions about the degree to which social media users can reasonably expect their personal information and communications to remain private… Facebook’s view is so wrong… Sharing information with your social media friends does not categorically eliminate your privacy interest in that information.

- Vince Chhabria, U.S. District Judge

Facebook is facing a number of other lawsuits across United States courtrooms for numerous privacy violations.

They also know your sex life

A recent investigation by Privacy International (PI) has revealed that a number of period-tracking apps have been sharing user data with Facebook. This includes identifying data, like names and date of birth, combined with detailed information on users’ menstrual cycles. Users are also tagged with the sinister “purpose: get pregnant” label to help advertisers target specific women.

Maya, MIA, and My Period Tracker are some of the most popular apps sharing this information with Facebook.

There is a huge market for users’ most personal details, and Facebook is the cornerstone of this industry. It is both buying and selling this data to many third-party companies, including Airbnb and Netflix.

The wide reach of the apps that our research has looked at might mean that intimate details of the private lives of millions of users across the world are shared with Facebook… The responsibility should be on the companies to comply with their legal obligations and live up to the trust that users have placed in them when deciding to use their service.

- Privacy International

What can users do?

Unfortunately, there is almost nothing you can do to protect your data. Unless you want to delete your Facebook account and stop using apps, companies are going to get your data.

It is good to see that the courts are on the side of users, but it will likely take years for any major lawsuits to reach a verdict.

Facebook announced a new “Off-Facebook Activity” setting in August. This reveals all the apps and websites that have been sending your data to Facebook. But this is mostly a token gesture, as the setting is not available worldwide and is unknown to many users.

The global presence of Facebook means it will take a combined effort from regulators and courts around the world to keep the company in line.

Samuel Newman author picture


Samuel Newman is a consumer journalist and blogger based in Sheffield.