Latest move is a legal action in California
The battle between pragmatic mobile advertisers and the Internet libertarians has taken a new twist. Those who feel that the web must be truly ‘free’ have taken steps against social media giant, Facebook, over what they view as a case of “intercepting communications for profit.” What Facebook is trying to do is building a highly accurate profile of its readership, of course. So any information it can glean is highly prized. However, Matthew Campbell of Arkansas and Michael Hurley of Oregon have filed suit against Facebook in a Northern District Court of California seeking damages. Whilst this is currently a US based spat, its implication do, of course, have global implications.
It’s significant that the pair’s law suit is asserting that Facebook’s actions are a violation of the US Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
They are accusing Facebook of scanning private messages with URLs in them “for purposes including but not limited to data mining and user profiling.”
Which is probably exactly what Facebook is doing. It appears to be scanning private messages between its members for indicative URLs.
Curiously, the pair don’t appear to be seeking astronomical damages as a result of this practice.
They are aimed at around £6,000 ($10,000) each. Not a lot but if every Facebook user tries this then it’s a bit of a disaster for Facebook.
CNET has quoted an unnamed Facebook spokesperson as saying that, “We believe the allegations are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”
A Swiss firm, High-Tech Bridge, is said to have alleged that Facebook’s third-party plug-ins are counting the number of ‘likes’ shared through private messages.
The crux of these complaints by anti-data mining activists is that ordinary users believe they are communicating on a service free from surveillance.
Hence, they are far more likely to “reveal facts about themselves that they would not reveal had they known the content was being monitored.”
An excellent point. The pair are thus seeking an injunction against Facebook to stop the practice of scanning URLs in private messages.
The arguments all come down to who pays for what. The best way of looking at this situation is to make a comparison with the physical (rather than online world).
It is almost as if Facebook is accused of opening up private letters and then scanning those letters for obvious URLs.
Which, of course, sounds outrageous. Until you think about the economics of the two systems.
Certainly over here in Blighty [UK], ordinary consumers are turning away from the traditional postal services as too expensive and using online alternatives instead.
With postal service, consumers have to pay for private communications by purchasing stamps for envelopes.
But they aren’t paying anything for private communications on Facebook.
So it is the equivalent of Facebook opening regular mail to work out which leaflet mailshots might work in a particular user’s case.
It sounds terrible until you consider that Facebook users aren’t buying any stamps at all.
So why should such communications be ‘free’ and involve no data mining?
GoMo News reckons that the big social media players have got to spell out that nothing is effectively for free.
And if Facebook users want the service to stop mining data on personal communications they they will have to purchase digital stamps for each message. Simples.
Indeed, GoMo News believes that this is exactly the business model which rival social media sites like LinkedIn already implement.