In a lawsuit filed this week by Merchant Law Group based in Toronto, a class of Canadian users is accusing Facebook of changing its terms of service and users’ privacy settings without their consent.
Tony Merchant of Merchant Law Group said, “Facebook shamelessly breached the privacy of people who trusted it, is what this claim asserts.” There are currently around 200 people signed up to participate in the suit against the site, which alleges that Facebook acted with the knowledge that users would likely be unwilling to share the information that was made public when the privacy settings underwent a facelift a couple of months ago. One claim from the lawsuit states:
Facebook intentionally or negligently designs its privacy policies, as disseminated to Users in such fashion as to mislead and induce Users into putting their personal information and privacy at further risk. Such design and dissemination constitutes material misrepresentation of the effects of Facebook.com’s privacy settings in such fashion as to increase the damage and injury to Users.
The lawsuit seeks damages in the amount of the total profits the company made by using the information. It also seeks compensation for failure to warn, breach of contract, misrepresentation, negligent design and manufacture, intentional interference with users’ economic interests and unjust enrichment, plus interest. Because of this the damages have the potential to be very high, but also might be difficult to calculate.
This is not the first backlash Facebook has felt from its users concerning the spontaneous change in privacy settings. Many users were unhappy, and the change prompted some internet rights groups (such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation) to create an online Bill of Rights to address the basic liberties of social network users.
This lawsuit is particularly troubling because Canadians are considered some of the most avid users of the site, with nearly 48 percent of the total population being members. The site even changed its policies last year to conform to Canada’s Personal Information and Protection and Electronic Documents Act after receiving harsh criticism from the country’s privacy commissioner. It is now clear that Canadians are still not happy with the state of privacy on the site.