Facebook Takes Legal Action Against Data Scrapers in Latest Enforcement Effort

With the US election now only 32 days away, this serves as a pertinent reminder as to how Cambridge Analytica[1] allegedly influenced voters to act in the 2016 US Presidential poll.

Today, Facebook has launched legal proceedings[2] against two companies over data scraping, which saw these organizations extract Facebook user data for use in digital intelligence tools.

As explained by Facebook[3]:

Today, we filed a lawsuit in the US against two companies that used scraping to engage in an international data harvesting operation. These companies scraped data from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Amazon, in order to sell “marketing intelligence” and other services.”

Data harvesting, as Facebook puts it, is essentially large-scale data extraction, which can be done in several ways. Cambridge Analytica used data which had been gathered from participants in an academic program[4] – the participants undertook a psychological assessment via an app on Facebook which then also extracted their Facebook information in order to match the test results with their listed details.

The data scraping conducted by the companies in this new case saw them obtain the information via the installation of two website browser extensions – “UpVoice” and “Ads Feed”.

“When people installed the extensions and visited our websites the browser extensions used automated programs to scrape their name, user ID, gender, date of birth, relationship status, location information, and other information related to their accounts.”

Data scraping has been subject to various legal challenges in the past.

In one case that’s still ongoing, hiQ Labs is battling LinkedIn[5] over LinkedIn’s efforts to cut-off hiQ’s access to its platform, due to the hiQ’s strategy of scraping LinkedIn user data in order to fuel its talent management tools[6].

In a ruling last year[7], hiQ challenged a cease and desist order from LinkedIn, arguing that it was only using LinkedIn profile data that was publicly available. The court agreed, and hiQ has been able to continue accessing LinkedIn’s data to build its competing products, but LinkedIn has challenged the initial ruling, which could still see hiQ lose LinkedIn data access.

The question in this case comes down publicly available data, and what the limits are on such, but in Facebook’s latest filing, the data obtained relates to non-publicly available information, which has been gathered illegally via the use of browser extensions.

That should make it a more definitive legal case – but the real motivation for Facebook’s legal push is to establish clear precedent, and signify relative punishment for such, in order to better deter others from doing the same.

Such has increasingly been Facebook’s strategy for rule violations and breaches. Over the past two years, Facebook has filed various lawsuits[8] against companies that have used its platforms to scrape data, steal information, manipulate engagement, inflate ad metrics, and more.

It’s good to see Facebook taking more action on such actions. As social media becomes a more critical part of our interactive process, it also becomes a more valuable business tool, and as such, it’s important that there’s a level of trust and assurance in platform data.

Combating cheats is a key element within this.

You can read more about Facebook’s latest legal filing here[9].

References

  1. ^ Cambridge Analytica (www.socialmediatoday.com)
  2. ^ launched legal proceedings (about.fb.com)
  3. ^ Facebook (about.fb.com)
  4. ^ gathered from participants in an academic program (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ battling LinkedIn (www.natlawreview.com)
  6. ^ talent management tools (www.hiqlabs.com)
  7. ^ last year (newmedialaw.proskauer.com)
  8. ^ various lawsuits (www.socialmediatoday.com)
  9. ^ here (about.fb.com)

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