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Facebook sued for alleged monitoring of users’ private messages

Social media giant Facebook is being sued for the alleged monitoring of its users’ private messages in order to gather more consumer data that it in turn shares with marketers.

A federal lawsuit filed Thursday in San Jose, California alleges  that Facebook traces the contents of users’ private messages,  including links to other websites, “to improve its marketing  algorithms and increase its ability to profit from data about  Facebook users,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

A link to another site is read as a “like” of that  website. The information contributes to a comprehensive profile  on the user’s activity that is collected by Facebook and that  eventually becomes material for targeted advertising, the lawsuit  claims.

Two plaintiffs are seeking a class action suit on behalf of all  Facebook users who have sent or received a private message in the  past two years that contained links.

The allegations are “without merit,” said Facebook  spokeswoman Jackie Rooney.

“We will defend ourselves vigorously,” she told the LA  Times in an emailed statement.

Hackers News was first to surface Facebook’s supposed practice of  scanning private messages and converting links to   “likes” in 2012.

Two weeks ago, a new   study showed that Facebook records everything users type on  the social networking site, including notes they choose to delete  instead of posting.

Adam Kramer, a data scientist employed by the social network,  studied the profiles of 3.9 million people for the study, dubbed   “Self-Censorship on Facebook.” Kramer viewed activity on  each profile by monitoring its HTML form element, which is made  up of HTML code that changes whenever a user types in their  Facebook chat, status update, or other areas where they speak to  others.

While Facebook claims it does not track the words that are  written in each box, the company is able to determine when  characters are typed, how many words are typed, and whether they  are posted or deleted. Kramer, with help from student Sauvik Das,  spent 17 days tracking “aborted status updates, posts on  other people’s timelines, and comments on other posts.”

The social network site does offer opt-outs for certain  advertising features, such as whether a user’s consumer brand  likes are shared with others and, perhaps tellingly, the ability  to opt out of any future decision to allow third-party sites to  use a user’s name or picture in advertisements.

Facebook – which is again expected  to pay no federal taxes this year – is not alone among major tech  companies facing lawsuits that claim privacy violations. Google  has been sued in federal court, accused of illegally accessing  the contents of email sent through its Gmail service, a violation  of US wiretapping law.

Also earlier this month, documents leaked by former NSA  contractor Edward Snowden revealed  that the National Security Agency has quietly subverted the tools  used by online advertising companies in order to track  surveillance targets and improve its monitoring ability.



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