Appeals Court Dismisses Privacy Violation Case vs Facebook Inc (FB), Zynga Inc (ZNGA)


The United States District Court of Appeals for the Northern District of California dismissed the case against Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Zynga Inc (NASDAQ:ZNGA) with prejudice on  allegations that the companies violated federal privacy laws.

The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit alleged that the social network giant and the social gaming company disclosed confidential user information to third parties in headers referrers (HTTP address of the web page from which a request was sent)

The three-member panel of the Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the lower court that Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Zynga Inc (NASDAQ:ZNGA) did not violate federal privacy laws.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim because their did not accuse either the social network giant or the social gaming company of disclosing the contents of a communication, an important element of their claims under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).


In their appeal, the plaintiffs argued that lower court made a mistake in holding that Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Zynga Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and the third parties were the intended recipients of the headers containing the user’s Facebook UDs and the URLs. The plaintiffs asserted in their complaints that the privacy policies of both companies prevented them from providing personally identifiable information to third parties.

On the other hand, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Zynga Inc (NASDAQ:ZNGA) argued that the complaints of the plaintiffs failed to allege that they revealed the “contents” of a communication to a third party.

Court ruling

The Court of Appeals explained that the Congress amended the definition if “contents” and remove the words “identity of the parties to such communication” when it enacted ECPA. The three-member panel said the “term contents refers to the intended message conveyed by the communication, and does not include record information regarding the characteristics of the message that is generated in the course of communication.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals emphasized that the referrer header information sent by Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Zynga Inc (NASDAQ:ZNGA) to third parties containing user’s Facebook ID, and the address of the webpage from which the user’s HTTP request to view another webpage does not meet the definition of “contents.”

The Court of Appeals pointed out that the federal privacy laws in question in the plaintiffs’ cases do not prohibit the disclosure of personally identifiable information.

According to the Court of Appeals, “There is no language in ECPA equating “contents” with personally identifiable information. Thus, an allegation that Facebook and Zynga disclosed personally identifiable information is not equivalent to an allegation that they disclosed the contents of a communication.”

The Court of Appeals concluded, “Because information disclosed in the referrer headers at issue here is not the contents of a communication as defined in ECPA, the plaintiffs cannot state a claim under those statutes. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s dismissal with prejudice.”