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Facebook Sued For Violating Wiretap Laws 284

Posted by samzenpus
from the join-the-club dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Facebook is being sued in multiple states for tracking its users even after they logged out of the service. All the lawsuits allege the company violated federal wiretap laws. The most recent lawsuit, filed by a Mississippi woman, says: 'Leading up to September 23, 2011, Facebook tracked, collected, and stored its users’ wire or electronic communications, including but not limited to portions of their internet browsing history even when the users were not logged-in to Facebook. Plaintiff did not give consent or otherwise authorize Facebook to intercept, track, collect, and store her wire or electronic communications, including but not limited to her internet browsing history when not logged-in to Facebook.'"
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Facebook Sued For Violating Wiretap Laws

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  • sorry no (Score:4, Funny)

    by Osgeld (1900440) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @07:49PM (#37734092)

    There is no way we can let go of this invaluable resource over a few lawsuits. Clearly the wiretap laws need to be changed or we will not have our greatest resource ... worthless information for dumb fuck advertising!

    • Re:sorry no (Score:4, Informative)

      by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @09:20PM (#37734554)

      With one free plugin it becomes worthless information with no advertising.

      Or if you're in the entertainment or media business, it can become useful information with no advertising.

      http://www.adblockplus.com/ [adblockplus.com]

      • by jamesh (87723)

        ablockplus ftw!

        I regularly visit youtube and nearly every music video on there has comments like 'vevo sucks' and I never figured out why all the fuss for an almost invisible watermark in the corner of the video... until I used it in IE one day.

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        I second the ABP and would point out it also Chromium based [adblockplus.org] as well as Firefox. I have noticed since giving my users Comodo dragon with ABP that not only do they have a faster nicer web experience, thanks to no ads dragging them down, but the rates of infection have frankly dropped right off the chart.

        I give MSFT credit for making Windows 7 pretty damned good about blocking bugs but the combination of Dragon sandboxing the browser with ABP getting rid of the malware laden ads it has made viruses, at least f

      • by webnut77 (1326189)
        How does adblockplus compare to ghostery?

        After I installed Ghostery, I was amazed at how many trackers some sites use. One site I went to had 32 trackers. After disabling most of them, guess what. No ads, which was really not my goal. I don't mind the ads since I figure that helps a site pay for itself, but I'm not a Facebook user and I don't want FB tracking me.

        And another thought, all that tracking is sure going to eat into any bandwidth cap.

        • If you don't mind adds but don't want to be tracked, e-mail the website admins and tell them so. They may not be aware their adds are tracking and switch to non-tracking ones. It's a long shot, but even if they don't change, at least you've regained your peace of mind knowing the website owners don't care if you see their adds.
        • by bryan1945 (301828)

          A few weeks ago someone here suggested Ghostery to me. Wow, so many trackers. I spent the next few days deleting a how bunch of them as I progressed through my usual sites.
          AFAIK, AdBlock just keeps the ads from showing, but by doing so it may also block the tracker.
          To be safer, I use both.

      • by msevior (145103)

        With one free plugin it becomes worthless information with no advertising.

        Or if you're in the entertainment or media business, it can become useful information with no advertising.

        http://www.adblockplus.com/ [adblockplus.com]

        Mod parent up! No more ads to remove stomach fat :-)

        • by Pope (17780)

          Block all teeth whitening ads with this one weird tip discovered by a Slashdot poster!

      • by bryan1945 (301828)

        I had forgotten about how bad ads have become since I started using AdBlock. On one site with a forum, I would occasionally here a complaint about the person confusing the ad with the content (um, really?). On one of my favorite sites, the guy runs it as a hobby, so he depends on ad revenue. He offhandedly mentioned something about money, so I disabled AdBlock- wow, what a difference. But I like the site enough to deal with it.

      • When mentioning adblockplus you should also mention BetterPrivacy [mozilla.org]

        ABP rocks for preventing most ads and cookies.. but BetterPrivacy controls flashcookies - LSO [wikimedia.org]s.

        Ghostery [mozilla.org] is also a must.

  • Dumb Question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 16, 2011 @07:50PM (#37734096)

    Dumb-question guy here: how can a web site gather users' "internet browsing history even when the users were not logged-in to Facebook"?

    • Re:Dumb Question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @07:54PM (#37734138) Homepage Journal

      Put a "Like" button on every page they visit and store the Referrer field when the button gets downloaded.

      • by sortadan (786274)
        Wouldn't that be tracking the communication that the person's browser initiates with Facebook? If there is a law that say logging out of a website has to delete all cookies cookies and wipe any record or what IP you're using, I call dibs on Google.
        • Re:Dumb Question (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @09:09PM (#37734500)
          That is correct as far as it goes. But the problem there is that you have no way to know, ahead of time, what sites might have Like buttons and what sites not. By the time the page is downloaded, and you see the Like button there, it already has you tracked.

          Currently, the only way to prevent that is to use a script blocker to block Facebook's javascript from running. Which I do. But it's not a satisfactory solution... they should only be able to track you if you give your explicit permission. What they are doing now is sneaky and unethical, given that most people don't even know they're doing it.
        • by sjames (1099)

          It's a bit like stalking. Yes, a person can be seen and incidentally photographed when they're in public places, but dispatching an army of photographers around town to make sure you get photos wherever they go is quite another matter.

      • by TeamSPAM (166583)
        There is also the cookie stored in your browser, You may not be logged in to facebook, but the cookie will still tell them who you are.
      • by AngryNick (891056)
        so....what's the name of the facebook-blocking add-in for Chrome and Firefox?
    • Re:Dumb Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by icebraining (1313345) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @07:55PM (#37734152) Homepage

      See those Facebook "Like" buttons everywhere? They have Javascript loaded from Facebook's website. Even if you're not logged in, it creates a cookie with a random ID, which is then read when you access other sites with the button.

      It's easy to reproduce, if they haven't changed it from a month ago: log off from FB, delete all cookies from their domains (fbcdn*, facebook*) and then load some pages with their button.
      It worked for me even though I didn't even have an account.

    • I think this lawsuit is related to how the Facebook "like" buttons that are scattered throughout the internet allow FB to track you. Presumably, when you are not logged in, they still track you by cookie/IP/whatever.
    • By loading a page with a embedded link to Facebook. Like buttons, transparent 1 pixel gifs, etc.

    • Logging out doesn't remove the cookie that tells them who you are when you visit a page with the FB 'like' button or similar on it; it just makes it invalid for the purpose of actually being logged in.
    • Does anybody else here think that the Like button shouldn't track you even if you ARE logged in?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The thing is that this tracking depends on cookies, which are actually sent by the browsers themselves (as per the HTTP spec). Of course I haven't analyzed all the Javascript so I'm not sure, but Javascript does not have the capability to perform any time of interception of network traffic. Of course, I don't know what Flash, etc. could do.

    I highly doubt that there is any "unlawful interception" going on here and this is likely just more waste of taxpayer money because we, the technically apt, have to liv

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @08:05PM (#37734212)

    ... everyone else.

    What FB is doing has already been done via banner ads provided from a few major ad sites for years (instead of 'Like' buttons). Its possible that Facebook is legally in a different position then the advertisers, since they (FB) can identify their users. But other then that, tracking is tracking.

    • Everyone else? Good.

      This is invasive and illegal if you correctly read the laws and don't 'interpret' them to suit your donors and benefactors.

  • by BitterOak (537666) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @08:19PM (#37734274)

    As much as I dislike Facebook's rampant disregard for users' privacy, this is simply not what the wiretapping law is about. The wiretapping law is meant to cover interception by a third party of communications between two other non-consenting parties. What Facebook did is entirely different. With the consent of certain websites, the cookie mechanism is used to inform Facebook when users visit these sites. Facebook is not intercepting and recording any communications.

    Many of us might not like Facebook, and may see this lawsuit as a victory, but misapplication of federal computer and communication laws sets a dangerous precedent for anyone who uses the Internet. Do something that pisses someone off? The Feds will find a law and twist it to make it fit your actions. If new laws are needed to cover emerging technologies, they should be considered by appropriate legislative and regulatory bodies. Then people can comply with the law or face the consequences. But if laws can be twisted to cover any behavior we don't like, it makes it difficult for anyone to be sure they are in compliance with the law.

    • This is sort of like the "wire fraud" laws used against businesses. They never did anything related to wire fraud, but it's kind of a catch-all for "you did business in a shady way to get money from people." In this case, it's "you tracked people in a shady way."

      What we really need is our laws to be updated to reflect technology rather than using laws created back when telegraph lines were high-tech.
    • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @08:26PM (#37734326)

      If new laws are needed to cover emerging technologies, they should be considered by appropriate legislative and regulatory bodies. Then people can comply with the law or face the consequences. But if laws can be twisted to cover any behavior we don't like, it makes it difficult for anyone to be sure they are in compliance with the law.

      But how can you know if a new law is required to cover a new technology without a judicial test of the existing laws? That is what the courts are designed to do: test and apply the laws to a given situation. Let this go to trial. If the courts shoot down the lawsuit due to these laws not applying, then you can go ahead and get new legislation passed.

      • Agreed let it go to trial. I hope people don't get bribed into a settlement and Facebook get off "without accepting any guilt". I think being able to settle without accepting guilt in general is silly. You settle to save the cost of court and the risk of losing more money then the settlement is going to cost you. You shouldn't be able to get away without admitting that you did something wrong that is why you needed to pay. Somehow only individuals are expected to apologize when wrong and corporations are su
      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        All good and fine when it's facebook, a multi billion dollar company facing the charges. They will probably get off. But I don't think people would have the same attitude if it was a much smaller entity getting charged, without so much means to defend itself.
      • by syousef (465911)

        If new laws are needed to cover emerging technologies, they should be considered by appropriate legislative and regulatory bodies. Then people can comply with the law or face the consequences. But if laws can be twisted to cover any behavior we don't like, it makes it difficult for anyone to be sure they are in compliance with the law.

        But how can you know if a new law is required to cover a new technology without a judicial test of the existing laws? That is what the courts are designed to do: test and apply the laws to a given situation. Let this go to trial. If the courts shoot down the lawsuit due to these laws not applying, then you can go ahead and get new legislation passed.

        That is why I wholeheartedly disagree. As far as possible the law should be based on the intent of the offender and consequences to victims, not on which technology de jour was used to commit it. Then we wouldn't need judges with degrees in IT as well as law to make a sound judgement. In general tech is just the enabler. The issue here is privacy, not whether HTTP cookies, like buttons, FTP, gopher or carrier pidgeon was used to transfer the information.

      • If a law is written such that people don't know how it applies until a judge rules on it, isn't that an ex post facto law, for all intents and purposes?

    • by Bill Dimm (463823) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @08:58PM (#37734434) Homepage

      With the consent of certain websites, the cookie mechanism is used to inform Facebook when users visit these sites.

      Is that true? Did the website operators displaying a Facebook "like" button actually know that it allowed their site users to be tracked by Facebook even if the button was not clicked? The tech-savvy ones might have realized that that was a possibility, but I would guess that a lot of website operators put the button on their pages to allow their users to "like" a page, not for the purpose of allowing Facebook to track them. Car analogy: If I give my car keys to a mechanic to change the car's oil, that doesn't mean I've consented to having him install a GPS tracker so he can monitor me.

      • by fatphil (181876)
        Your analogy has nothing in common with the situation in question at all.

        The situation is basically no different from the old 1x1px transparent web bugs of old. The tech savvy have known the implications of those for over a decade: the first google hit points to 1999, http://news.cnet.com/2100-1017-243077.html , but they go back a while before that.
        • by Bill Dimm (463823)

          Your analogy has nothing in common with the situation in question at all.

          Nothing at all? Facebook is given access to another website's users for one reason (to supply a "like" button), and it uses the opportunity to do something else (tracks the user). Likewise, the mechanic is given access to my car for one purpose (change oil) and uses the opportunity to do something else (install GPS tracker).

          The situation is basically no different from the old 1x1px transparent web bugs of old. The tech savvy have known the implications of those for over a decade...

          Please re-read the post by BitterOak that I was replying to, and you'll see that it is different. BitterOak claimed that it isn't wirefraud because wirefraud involves interception by

      • by BitterOak (537666)

        With the consent of certain websites, the cookie mechanism is used to inform Facebook when users visit these sites.

        Is that true? Did the website operators displaying a Facebook "like" button actually know that it allowed their site users to be tracked by Facebook even if the button was not clicked?

        Well, in that situation, the person clicking the Like button is communicating with Facebook, not the hosting website, so wiretapping laws are even less applicable. How can Facebook be wiretapping a communication between a user and Facebook?

        • by Bill Dimm (463823)

          With the consent of certain websites, the cookie mechanism is used to inform Facebook when users visit these sites.

          Is that true? Did the website operators displaying a Facebook "like" button actually know that it allowed their site users to be tracked by Facebook even if the button was not clicked?

          Well, in that situation, the person clicking the Like button is communicating with Facebook, not the hosting website, so wiretapping laws are even less applicable. How can Facebook be wiretapping a communication between a user and Facebook?

          This isn't about tracking someone that clicks the "like" button (note that I said "was not clicked" in my previous post); it is about them tracking someone when the "like" button is displayed on some webpage. So, a website operator embeds a "like" button thinking that it does nothing but allow the user to like the page by clicking it, the user does nothing but load the page into the browser, and Facebook gets tracking info. How did the website user consent to tracking when he/she did nothing but load a we

      • I have no problem with the Like button being there. But EVEN IF I AM LOGGED INTO FACEBOOK it should not record my page hit unless I click that button.

    • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @09:31PM (#37734616)

      "Facebook is not intercepting and recording any communications."

      Yes, it is, at least in a sense.

      Facebook is recording your IP, What sites you visit, and when. While it isn't recording any other communications, it doesn't need to in order to violate privacy.

      What Facebook is doing is equivalent to a Pen Register used on telephones. The Pen Registers record what calls are being made, when, and to what number. But they don't record any actual conversations.

      But even Pen Registers are illegal, and can only be used by Law Enforcement under strict conditions. The standard of evidence for allowing use of a Pen Register is lower than for actually tapping a phone line and listening to the conversations, but it is still legal only for law enforcement and it still requires due process, meaning they have to petition a judge for permission, and explain their evidence.

    • by Aighearach (97333)

      The wiretapping law is meant to cover interception by a third party of communications between two other non-consenting parties.

      No, it is often intended to cover cases where any of the parties are non-consenting.

      • by BitterOak (537666)

        No, it is often intended to cover cases where any of the parties are non-consenting.

        Not the federal wire-tapping laws. Some states require two party consent for recording conversations (and then the law generally only covers audio recording, which is not the case here), but I think Facebook is being sued under a federal wiretap law.

    • by Burning1 (204959)

      Actually, it's my understanding that wiretap laws are being used to model laws against GPS and other tracking devices, and it's totally possible that illegal tracking of people can fall into the realm of wiretap law.

      Beyond that, it's not difficult to argue that the facebook bug is being used to intercept and record communication between two parties without concent of both parties. After all, my requests and responses are private communication, and I would not be surprised to find that the facebook bug is be

  • by sgt_doom (655561) on Sunday October 16, 2011 @08:26PM (#37734322)
    ....attended by the Usual Suspects, David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, top banksters on the planet (and the hedge funds which are owned by the banksters which own the banksters --- interlocking stock ownership up the wazoo!). Once Marky Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Bezos begin attending with the rest of the global banking cartel -- it figures that they are the forward army of societal information systems engineering --- and I'm being quite serious.

    http://disinfo.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Screen-shot-2010-11-17-at-10.30.55-AM.png [amazonaws.com]

    http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6231/6238828974_5389387b60_b.jpg [flickr.com]

  • I guess unless you explicitly "opt-in" this could be extended to all tracking mechanisms such as fine grained or coarse grained GPS tracking, Ad-Aware cookies which track which websites you've been on etc. It seems Facebook is being singled out here but I can't honestly think that they're doing much of anything different than what has been happening on the web for years.

    Disabling Cookies has been mentioned here so I guess like disabling Adoobe Flash Cookies (Storage) and disabling cookies in General, you'l

  • I've had this issue with Facebook for ages (i've cleared my Facebook account over a year ago, and logged out) - I visit a site I've never been to before and it goes "Welcome " ... where the name is the name I have on my Facebook account.

  • by Zemran (3101)

    Did anyone else notice the Facebook like button at the bottom of the page? They now know you know they are watching you ....

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