Federal court rules Facebook guilty of ‘wiretapping’ their users

A nine-year legal battle has resulted in a judge ruling in favour of Facebook’s users, deducing that the giant’s apps constitute something close to a wire-tap.

 

 

The end of a nine-year-long legal battle has seen al court in the United States rule that Facebook’s pervasive online tracking could be considered a violation of anti-wiretapping laws.

In 2011, a group of Facebook users filed their own class-action suits against the Silicon Valley giant, claiming that the mass of Facebook plugins websites and apps are programmed to target and track visitors, whether they have a Facebook account or not. 

Facebook has stuck to its guns, quoting the part of the Federal Wiretap Act that defines wiretapping as interception of communications. In the eyes of Facebook, with an absence of that active interception, gathering user data isn’t the same as wiretapping.

 

In 2011, a group of Facebook users filed their own class-action suits against the Silicon Valley giant, claiming that the mass of Facebook plugins websites and apps are programmed to target and track visitors, whether they have a Facebook account or not. 

 

Ultimately, that’s not the point, as the judge pointed out in his response: “The most Facebook does is to identify (and then exaggerate) a circuit split on a narrow issue of law, but never explains why any Justice would Facebook’s position. Facebook antiseptically frames the question as whether a defendant can “wiretap” a communication that it receives directly from a plaintiff. But Facebook’s business practices (and the allegations in the complaint) present a very different question.”

Regardless of how Facebook sees it, the judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wasn’t having it and dismissed the technicality the company has clung to on the basis that the widgets collect information from people who don’t even click on them—in the eyes of the court, this counts as an interception.

The ruling is a surprising one, given the past rulings in this near decade-long legal battle. The case was dismissed in 2017—leading to this latest appeal—when judge Edward Davila argued that privacy-conscious users could protect themselves simply by using their preferred web browser’s incognito mode—a useless and insulting suggestion considering how little private browsing actually protects internet users. He also suggests installing an ad blocker, another basic practise that is futile in the face of Facebook’s data-driven system.

 

 

 

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