After a year of growing concerns, privacy seems poised to continue its march into the public eye in 2014. On Dec. 30 2013, social media giant Facebook was served with a complaint for message-scanning practices it employs to offer targeted marketing messages to users. Two Facebook users submitted the complaint in a Federal court in San Jose, California, Bloomberg reports.
Currently, when users compose messages via Facebook and incorporate a link in the content, the link is scanned so that the social media site can collect information on the users’ interests. The complaint argues that this is a warrantless practice that could be used to eavesdrop on the private messages of Facebook users. Facebook asserts that the original content of the message is not scanned, and spokeswoman Jackie Roonie says that the allegations are “without merit.”
Similar complaints were leveled against Google in the fall of 2013 for scanning Gmail messages for keywords and links that could be used to determine user purchasing habits. While state-filed complaints in that case were dismissed, Judge Lucy Koh allowed the federal complaints to continue forward. LinkedIn and Yahoo have also faced similar allegations.
In the Facebook case, plaintiffs are seeking $10,000 in damages for each user that sent a message with a link in the last two years. They’ve also requested that the federal court bar Facebook from using so-called “invasive scanning” techniques in the future.
While Facebook has categorically denied that it has ever assisted with intelligence collection for government agencies like the National Security Agency, it has had a separate series of legal battles to contend with. In December, it fielded allegations that it was careless in charging credit cards owned by the parents of users, the company also come under fire for its “Beacon” service, which broadcasted spending transactions unbeknownst to users.
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