How Facebook Privacy Suit Could Set New Legal Precedent

A class action law suit alleges that Facebook has violated federal and state privacy laws. While Facebook says the cases are without merit, the outcome could change the way social media companies handle user data.


Facebook has long been plagued with privacy complaints from users. The most recent accusation comes in the form of a lawsuit, alleging that Facebook is “scanning” private messages and using the data to improve marketing algorithm.

According to Bloomberg, the lawsuit alleges that this scanning is a violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and a California privacy law. However, the ECPA is specific to government monitoring of private digital correspondence and has nothing to do with commercial use of private data.

While a Facebook spokesperson claimed the suit was without merit, there may be some teeth to the allegation that Facebook violated a California privacy law. Indeed, California Online Privacy Protection Law requires that:

“Operators of commercial web sites or online services that collect personal information on California residents through a web site to conspicuously post a privacy policy on the site and to comply with its policy. The privacy policy must, among other things, identify the categories of personally identifiable information collected about site visitors and the categories of third parties with whom the operator may share the information. The privacy policy must also provide information on the operator’s online tracking practices.”

Still, for those who read the November update to Facebook’s privacy policy, they would have seen that Facebook does indeed notify users that it receives user data when messages are sent back and forth. The policy also states that user data may be used to serve up relevant ads and other content.

Facebook is not the only company being accused of intercepting communications but my guess is that they’ve provided the necessary privacy disclaimers to insulate themselves from legal action. Still, the outcome of these cases could set a precedent for the way companies like Facebook and Google treat user privacy in the future.

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