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Facebook Won’t Face the Music Over Privacy Violations

— October 26, 2015

Facebook won the dismissal of a $15B lawsuit alleging that its “cookies” secretly tracked and collected users’ Internet activity even after they logged out of the world’s largest online social media network. The judge found that the plaintiffs had failed to specify how, exactly, they were harmed. Plaintiffs have until November 30 to revise and refile their claims.

It’s a great day for Zuckerberg! U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davilla dismissed a $15B lawsuit alleging that the social media company secretly tracked its users Internet activity after they logged off. This has been a long, drawn-out affair, filed in 2012 and the judge’s decision means Facebook won’t face the music over privacy violations.

The decision came down in San Jose, California on Friday the 23rd. Judge Davilla took over three years after arguments were heard to make his decision. The case was dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to show how they were actually harmed. The judge is giving them until November 30 to revise and refile the suit.

The Facebook users behind the suit argue that, while they agreed to let Facebook install “cookie” files on the computers that would track and transmit Web browsing, they didn’t grant permission for such data collecting to be done after they’d logged out of the huge online community. This was a consolidation of several suits filed by U.S. residents using Facebook between May 2010 to September 2011. The residents were found in ten different states, including Alabama, Texas and California.

U.S. and European regulators have had their collective eye on the social media giant for some time now, expressing concern over how users’ private data may be used by the company. Facebook has been sued numerous times over privacy violations ranging from allegations that it reads private email messages to gather data for targeted advertising to its use of facial-recognition technology. The latter claim alleged that Facebook had “amassed the world’s largest privately held database of consumer biometric data.”


The claim in this case is that Facebook violated the U.S. Wiretap Act by tracking the Internet activity of users who weren’t logged into the social media network. There are allegations that Facebook has improperly profited from this collected data.

In Judge Davilla’s eyes, the issue is “realistic harm.” Specifically, the judge says that the plaintiffs failed to “adequately connect” their data’s value to any “realistic economic harm or loss,” as they didn’t show that “they personally lost the opportunity to sell their information or that the value of their information was somehow diminished after it was collected by Facebook.”

Plaintiffs may refile the claims based on invasion of privacy and Wiretap Act violations. If successful, the Wiretap Act claims could mean damages up to $100 per violation per day for each Facebook user. Given that there are roughly 150M users potentially affected by the claims, that’s about $15B in damages.

Facebook spokeswoman Vanessa Chan emailed that, “We are pleased with the court’s ruling.”

Matthew Brown, an attorney for Facebook in a 2012 hearing before Judge Davilla, told the judge that the plaintiffs’ suit suffered from an “utter lack of allegations of any injury to these particular named plaintiffs.”

He argued that the plaintiffs didn’t identify what websites they visited after logging out of Facebook. He also argued that the plaintiffs failed to say what data or information was collected or whether Facebook actually used or disclosed it.

The case is In re Facebook Internet Tracking Litigation, 5:12-md-02314, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).


Facebook Wins Dismissal of $15 Billion Users’ Privacy Suit

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