Facebook [corporate website] settled a class-action lawsuit levied against it on Wednesday for its prior practice of scanning private messages to aid in ads. A motion [text, PDF] was filed on Wednesday, subject to court approval, for declaratory and injunctive relief, though it does not discuss specific monetary awards. In pertinent part, the motion states “[t]he settlement achieves significant business practice changes, and benefits the settlement class now.” Facebook had been searching through its members’ messages [Courthouse News article] to look for third-party website URLs and used this information to drive a marketing campaign with advertising aimed at individual users’ interests, which the plaintiffs alleged to be a violation of the Federal Wiretap Act [text] and California’s Invasion of Privacy Act [text]. Facebook contends that it no longer relies upon these practices, although it now informs users that their messages may be scanned to aid in advertising. The settlement would require Facebook to refrain from using this private messaging data, sharing user data with third party companies, and artificially generating “likes” on third-party websites. Though monetary damages are not specifically mentioned in the motion, the two class representatives can both expect to receive awards of $5,000 each.
Popular social media services and transforming technologies have posed new and unique challenges to rights groups worldwide. In October Amnesty International [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] ranking the privacy protection measures taken by the most popular social media websites, finding Snapchat [corporate website] and Skype [corporate website] to be the least private. Earlier the same month the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website], along with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 50 other interest groups, sent a letter [JURIST report] urging the US Department of Justice [official website] to investigate the increasing use of facial recognition technology. And in September Swiss voters approved [JURIST report] a new surveillance law allowing their national intelligence service broad powers to spy on “terrorist” suspects and cyber criminals, as well as the ability to cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies.