Facebook faces class action suit in Canada over interception of private messages

The social networking company is alleged to have intercepted private messages to harvest data

Facebook is facing a class-action lawsuit in Canada over its alleged interception of private message of users of the social network.

The lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court alleges that URLs (uniform resource locators) in the private messages were "harvested" by Facebook in violation of its users' privacy, without their knowledge or consent, Rochon Genova, the law firm representing the users, said Wednesday.

Facebook did not disclose to users that their private messages would be intercepted and scanned, and the contents of those messages treated as "likes" for third-party sites through the social plug-in function, according to the law firm.

The social networking company was not immediately available for comment.

The company is already facing similar lawsuits in the U.S. over its alleged interception and scanning of the content of private messages.

Citing research by Swiss information security firm High-Tech Bridge and others, Facebook users Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley filed in December a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of all Facebook users in the U.S. who have sent or received private Facebook messages that included a URL in the content of the message.

High-Tech Bridge wrote in August last year that Facebook was one of the Web services it tested that was caught scanning URLs despite such activity remaining undisclosed to the user, according to the complaint.

Facebook mined user data and profited by sharing the data with third parties such as advertisers, marketers, and other data aggregators, despite having made representations that "reflect the promise that only the sender and the recipient or recipients will be privy to the private message's content, to the exclusion of any other party, including Facebook," the complaint added.

The lawsuit is proposed to be consolidated with a similar one filed in January in the Northern District of California by another Facebook user David Shadpour. If there was a URL in the private message, Facebook searched the website identified in the URL for purposes such as data mining and user profiling, according to Shadpour's complaint.

Facebook quietly shelved the practice, without acknowledging it, in October 2012 after a report in the Wall Street Journal exposed the scanning, according to Rochon Genova.

The class-action lawsuit in Ontario includes all Canadian resident Facebook users who sent or received private messages containing URLs up to October 2012. There are more than 18 million Facebook users in Canada and around three-quarters of them log on to Facebook at least once a day, according to Rochon Genova.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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