A lawsuit claims that Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) might have scanned people’s private messages. The lawsuit was filed in Northern California District Court. It centers around allegations the use of scanning and logging of the URLs which are sent in private messages of the social media network. The scans have some things to do such as antivirus check and anti-malware, some standard industry searches for child pornography and also to some extent marketing purposes.
Plaintiffs in the suit claim that the social media giant has been using the scans as a way to target users with data and advertisements. They also say that since Facebook keeps the records in one searchable form, they are also violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the California Invasion of Privacy Act. Facebook, however, argues that the messages are usually scanned in bulk, and most of the URL data is only used in an aggregate way, and it is hidden in any case.
The discovery process enabled the plaintiffs to get hold of most of the source code used by Facebook and some of its engineers even though much of the content is still under seal. However, the court records that have been provided so far show that the company does keep the private messages links. The attorney for the plaintiffs said that the records that Facebook was keeping could be used for anything at any time by anyone at Facebook.
At the moment how the messages sent can be traced back to a particular user is unclear. Facebook also described the records they kept as to the New York Times publishing a list of the best-selling books and said it was only aggregation data and anonymized. If the collection of the data is privacy violation then its an attack in computer programming the company argued.
Technical analysis performed on behalf of the plaintiffs showed that Facebook description might be wrong. The analysis showed that each URL message was stored in a message database known as Titan. The record shows the time stamp and the user IDs of both sender and recipient. The analysed data also showed that any Facebook employee could enter the database and trace back sent messages and identify them. Facebook lawyers replied to the analysis as speculative.
Access to the source code is needed to show how Facebook’s anonymization is working. The period that is up for debate in the suit, in 2012 shows that there might have been some ambiguity involved. Private messages were used to increase like count without noticing were like came from. A Facebook employee wrote in one email exchange about the 2012 system that they had intentionally not messaged what the number was of the construction of the system had been sketchy.
The company has changed its ways though from 2012. Back then it was proven that once a link is sent to private messages, it’s like count would increase. The plaintiffs tied the situation as proof that the data was tied to users profiles. Facebook in a testimony said they discontinued the practice immediately after it had been revealed.