Facebook is being sued over allegations it monitors private messages to surreptitiously gather even more information on its users and share the data with advertisers.
When users compose messages that include links to another website, Facebook scans the content of the message, follows the link and searches for information to profile the message-sender’s web activity ”to improve its marketing algorithms and increase its ability to profit from data about Facebook users”, according to the lawsuit.
The links to third-party websites are interpreted as a “like” of that website and contribute to a profile of the sender’s activity on the web for the purpose of targeting advertising, the lawsuit alleges.
This practice violates the US Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California privacy and unfair competition laws, according to the lawsuit.
Facebook spokeswoman Jackie Rooney said the allegations are “without merit”.
“We will defend ourselves vigorously,” she said.
The two plaintiffs are looking to certify the case as a class action on behalf of all Facebook users who have sent or received a private message in the past two years that included web links.
They are also asking to bar Facebook from continuing to intercept messages and seek as much as $US10,000 in damages for each user.
Hacker News brought to light the practice of recording links in private messages as “likes” in 2012. At the time some questioned whether users understood that links in their messages were being scanned.
Google is one of the Silicon Valley companies targeted by similar lawsuits. A US federal judge ruled in September that Google must face a lawsuit that accuses the tech giant of illegally opening and reading the contents of email sent through its Gmail service in violation of US wiretapping laws.