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Lawsuits & Litigation

Judge Says Facebook has the “Wrong” Take on Privacy

— September 11, 2019

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria dismissed some claims but is letting others proceed.

A federal judge is going to make Facebook bear the full burden of a massive class action, calling the company’s take on privacy “so wrong.”

The New York Post reports that U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, based in San Francisco, dismissed some claims against Facebook. But he also said other users could try holding the Silicon Valley behemoth liable through state and federal law.

At stake, says the Post, is Facebook’s long-standing policy of letting app developers and business partners harvest users’ information without obtaining their explicit consent. Chhabria scrapped complaints addressed by Facebook’s fine-print terms of service but allowed others to proceed.

“For the remaining three categories of misconduct—sharing with whitelisted apps, sharing with business partners, and failing to prevent misuse of information by third parties—the complaint plausibly alleges that none of the users consented,” Chhabria wrote.

The 414-page complaint against the company claims that Facebook misleads users—it makes them think they can control their personal data, while letting thousands of “preferred” partners access it. Corporations like Airbnb, Lyft and Netflix have all purportedly benefitted from data-sharing agreements with the social network.

Smartphone showing Facebook login screen with the words “Social Media” spelled out next to it in Scrabble tiles; image by William Iven, via
Smartphone showing Facebook login screen with the words “Social Media” spelled out next to it in Scrabble tiles; image by William Iven, via

Speaking in its own defense, Facebook argued that nobody’s suffered any “tangible” harm from data-harvesting. In fact, the company’s claimed that people who share information with friends on social media can’t possibly have any legitimate ‘privacy interest’ in it—and they used that logic to try gaining a dismissal.

Chhabria said that Facebook essentially treats privacy as an “all-or-nothing” affair, forcing users to forfeit their privacy even if they only agree to give up “limited” amounts of it.

“Facebook’s view is that once you make information available to your friends on social media, you completely relinquish any privacy interest in that information,” the judge wrote. “The problem with Facebook’s argument is that it treats privacy as an all-or-nothing proposition—either you retain a full privacy interest by not sharing information with anyone, or you have no privacy interest whatsoever by virtue of sharing it even in a limited fashion.”

Chhabria also noted that Facebook hasn’t always taken the same line. In a California lawsuit, the company compared the importance of social media security to smartphone information.

That position, said Chhabria, “is closer to the truth than the company’s assertions in the case.

“Sharing your information with your social media friends does not categorically eliminate your privacy interest in that information.”

Chhabria then discarded the motion to dismiss, faulting Facebook for presuming too much.

“Facebook’s motion to dismiss is littered with assumptions about the degree to which social media users can reasonably expect their personal information and communications to remain private,” Chhabria said. “Facebook’s view is so wrong.”


Facebook Can’t Deactivate Privacy Class Action

Judge lets Facebook privacy class action proceed, calls company’s views ‘so wrong’

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