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Facebook Privacy The Courts Your Rights Online

Facebook Privacy Suit Seeks $15 Billion 92

Posted by Soulskill
from the timing-entirely-a-coincidence-i'm-sure dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The folks at Facebook may be focusing on their IPO today, but a complaint filed in federal court has given them something else to think about. The filing consolidates 21 separate but similar cases and alleges Facebook invaded users privacy by tracking their browsing behavior even after they had logged out of the site. The claim seeks $15 billion in damages. 'If the claimants are successful in their case against Facebook, they could prevent Menlo Park from collecting the huge amount of data it collects about its users to serve ads back to them. Like the previous lawsuits, Facebook is once again being accused of violating the Federal Wiretap Act, which provides statutory damages per user of $100 per day per violation, up to a maximum per user of $10,000. The complaint also asserts claims under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, various California Statutes and California common law.'"
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Facebook Privacy Suit Seeks $15 Billion

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  • looks like someone (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    denounced citizenship just in time...

    • And I am seriously asking myself if I am in the right field. $15 billion for a privacy violation? Damn.

      • by binkzz (779594)

        And I am seriously asking myself if I am in the right field. $15 billion for a privacy violation? Damn.

        Not a privacy violation, billions of privacy violations.

  • Damnit! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jeng (926980) on Friday May 18, 2012 @06:03PM (#40046701)

    Now I won't get my $15 coupon off a Facebook branded hoodie as part of a settlement.

    I guess I should have created a Facebook account.

  • by simplexion (1142447) on Friday May 18, 2012 @06:04PM (#40046709)
    If you want privacy, don't sign up to Facebook.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2012 @06:11PM (#40046773)

      Even if you don't sign up to Facebook, they are tracking you because of their little F icon and/or scripts/cookies are being loaded up by your web browser on any webpage you are visiting.

      So your advice is insufficient. The only way to make sure is to nuke them from orbit. i.e. increase the damage and scope of the lawsuit to non-users.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by BitterOak (537666)

        Even if you don't sign up to Facebook, they are tracking you because of their little F icon and/or scripts/cookies are being loaded up by your web browser on any webpage you are visiting.

        Nobody says you have to click the little F icon!

        Really. Facebook is offering a free service here. No one is forcing you to sign up, and even if you do sign up, no one is forcing you to reveal personal details. If they can be charged under the federal wiretap statute, then really no website that uses cookies is safe. The best solution is just to not use Facebook, rather than ask the government to twist the law to fit what Facebook is doing.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Nobody says you have to click the little F icon!

          Not what the GP was saying. The implication was that your browser merely loading that icon sent enough data back to Facebook for them to track you. Which in a way is true, it does technically send some data back to Facebook (in that it alerts them that someone at that IP with that browser visited that particular F icon, and maybe others before it). And it allows them to track you and do Evil Things(tm) with this data much in the same way that the GP probably believes that computer screens are two-way and

          • by pkinetics (549289)
            And that's why I installed the Disconnect plugin for Chrome and Firefox.
          • The issue isn't that they know your browser loaded that page, it's that since so many websites use that F, and use it even in so-called secure portions of the site, it is trivial for Facebook's automated systems to create a profile for you and figure out what your exact browsing habits are. Since Facebook is already known to have the back end to handle this data and no reason at all not to tabulate it, it stands to reason that they are using it to their advantage.

            Twitter does the exact same thing with the badging, but they don't really have the infrastructure to tie it all together, which is probably why nobody's complaining about them. However, they could easily sell this data to someone else with the resources to leverage it.

            As for two-way computer screens... they actually exist, even though most people prefer the cheaper, more common, monitor-with-a-camera-embedded-in-the-frame version.

            The government stuff... well, you just have to wonder: which government? Or are they ALL doing it? :D

        • by KiloByte (825081) on Friday May 18, 2012 @06:33PM (#40046943)

          Even if you don't sign up to Facebook, they are tracking you because of their little F icon and/or scripts/cookies are being loaded up by your web browser on any webpage you are visiting.

          Nobody says you have to click the little F icon!

          Even if you don't click that F icon, they still track you.

          Blocking referer on third-party requests helps (and should be mandatory in all decent browsers! (ext for FF [mozilla.org])), but really, unless you adblock all of {facebook,fb,fbcdn}.{com,net} and probably more, Facebook will get a lot of data about you and your browsing patterns even if you don't use it.

          • that's why firefox has this nice addon called "ghostery". even better yet, if you don't mind creating exceptions for every new website you visit, "request policy" along with "ghostery" can completely kill this method of tracking, and i find it much saner than using "noscript".
            • and yet , I find it easier to simply whitelist those half dozen sites I actually need scripts to run on. All others are blocked by defualt so Facebook/others aren't the problem everyone makes it out to be if you follow a "Deny All" policy by default. Sure I've encountered a few websites so borked they require scripts and usually, I have little to no reason to stay/return in that case because their content is worthless to me then breathing. Sorry fools but if you insist on scripts for every god damn thing on

              • by optimism (2183618)

                It's not just about scripts.

                Simply loading the little F icon/image from facebook.com gives them your IP address and a pretty good fingerprint of your browser, as part of the HTTP request.

                Turning off scripts is not the solution. You need to keep prevent your browser from making any request to a site that you don't want to track you.

        • by Stan92057 (737634)
          Just because its free doesn't mean they don't have to follow wiretap laws or privacy laws.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I hope they get NAILED! $15billion isn't even enough, given the slimy way that Zuckerberg and his little band of upper-middle-class geniuses have created the meme that privacy is not available, even when you say it is, or when it's requested. Z and his bunch of cowboy insiders just made their Billions, now blow the rest of Facebook right out of the water. What we need are transparent, open, social networks that are not owned by VC rabble, and Asberger-prone inventors who want to live in their own little wor
      • Doesn't Google do the same thing on any website with an embedded YouTube video or AdSense advertisement?
      • by kermidge (2221646)

        Ghostery (http://www.ghostery.com/) is your friend. It can block the web bugs and such. Works fine in Opera and Firefox.

        • Work well in Safari too, but I find it somehow very amusing that the Ghostery web site has big 'follow us on Twitter' and 'friend us on Facebook' buttons on the front.
          • by kermidge (2221646)

            Missed that; what a stitch. Almost makes sense, in a back-handed way. Good to know re Safari. Haven't tried it in Chrome 'cuz I haven't looked at it for a while.

      • All facebook domain I know of are redirected to 127.0.0.1. Sometimes that means I domn't understand immediately why some stuff don't work, but it is an easy price to pay to not be tracked.
      • by zlives (2009072)

        collusion is pretty scary/cool addin

    • As much as I'd like to see Suckerbeg etc take it in the shorts, I have to agree with you. If you don't want to get bit by an alligator, stay out of the fucking swamp.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This is a nice analogy, because alligators don't actually stay in the swamp, or any very predictable place aside from usually being near inland water. Now, you could change it to "stay far away from the fucking swamp," and you'd be closer. Problem is, when you go back to the other side of the analogy, that's basically saying, "if you want privacy, stay off the fucking internet," which is becoming less and less of an option in our society.

        Just remember that alligators aren't mindless biting machines; they lo

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe we need some form of loser pays to limit frivolous lawsuits.

      Complaining that FB uses its users concerning privacy is like complaining that water is wet. That's their business model and it's your responsibility to research it ahead of time or delete your account when it become onerous.

      • by optimism (2183618)

        There is plenty of precedent, at least in the US, for the courts awarding 2x or more costs to the defendant, or requiring the plaintiff to post a contempt bond before filing any other lawsuit, when the plaintiff files a frivolous suit.

        The tricky bit is determining what is truly frivolous.

        • I'm torn here.

          I think Facebook could stand a good whack in their sails over Privacy, and have a judge make it stick.

          Meanwhile Oracle's lawsuit is pure platypus shit (more expensive than horse shit, and more exotic) precisely because the legal system currently has no proportional-metric penalty on the size of suits. "Let's sue for 15 billion! Let's make Defense counterprove each and every one of 87 points down, and we only spend $3,000,000 on legal fees."

          • by optimism (2183618)

            ...the legal system currently has no proportional-metric penalty on the size of suits. "Let's sue for 15 billion! Let's make Defense counterprove each and every one of 87 points down, and we only spend $3,000,000 on legal fees."

            A lawsuit does not have a "size" in terms of damages, until damages are actually awarded. Until then, the size of the suit is determined by its costs.

            If you are sued, spend $100K defending the suit, the judge dismisses the suit as frivolous, and the judge awards you 2x your defense costs ($200K)...that seems more than fair.

            If you don't agree, you can sue for whatever other damages (loss of business, etc) you may have incurred as a result of the lawsuit.

            It has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of dam

    • by Dan1701 (1563427) on Friday May 18, 2012 @06:23PM (#40046877)

      This is interesting because it may finally set limits as to how aggressively a company may collect and utilise data on users. Up to now Facebook has been a private company and hasn't needed to exploit the vast treasure trove of user data it has. The IPO changes everything now; I do wonder why on earth they did it, as they surely didn't need the money, but now Facebook will be in thrall to its shareholders.

      From now on, the shareholders will want to maximise profits. The one thing Facebook has that it can exploit is the user data. Up to now, they haven't really maximised the earning potential of this data; when they do they'll be treading a very, very fine line between profit and annoying users and worse still will not easily be able to tell when they've gone too far. I would wager that they're going to overdo it, and force the state to step in and set legal limits on them.

      • by tomhath (637240)

        This is interesting because it may finally set limits as to how aggressively a company may collect and utilise data on users.

        Or not. IANAL, but I can't imagine how this case has a chance. Browser tracking is everywhere, you should assume you are being tracked; the only reason for this suit is that FB has lots of cash.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2012 @06:26PM (#40046891)

      Well the idea that one should just avoid the service is reasonable. However, the conditions under which people signed up may have shifted AFTER they signed up. The privacy situation at Facebook started shifting a LOT and often a few years back. So under the conditions promised, one might have signed up and then they changed those conditions unbeknownst to you.

      The idea of court action is that the person has promised something and then changed what they're doing. So if I guarantee you privacy and you sign up for a great free service, and later discover that it was basically the old bait and switch, then you have good reason to be upset.

      So the idea that if you don't like alligators you should avoid swamps is simplistic; if you were promised no swamps (cuz you were trying to avoid them because you don't like alligators) and then you find yourself getting eaten alive, I say you have cause.

    • Whatever. (Score:3, Interesting)

      If you want privacy, don't sign up to Facebook.

      Funny how when Company XYZ does something that offends the privacy concerns of just about everyone, some slashdot user who likes Company XYZ shrugs and dismisses the ethical, moral, and possibly legal infractions under the non-argument "caveat emptor".

      Hell, more often than not hackers theft of private computer data (err, sorry "duplication") and re-posting of it to public (sorry, "whistleblowing") is celebrated: You can steal from Company XYZ, but you can't steal from User 1990235630 ? Government ABC should

      • by khallow (566160)

        Funny how when Company XYZ does something that offends the privacy concerns of just about everyone, some slashdot user who likes Company XYZ shrugs and dismisses the ethical, moral, and possibly legal infractions under the non-argument "caveat emptor".

        I see the problem here. You categorize it incorrectly. It's not a non-argument, it's a solution. A boycott would indeed be effective just as it is for any other business that sells to the general public.

    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      If you want freedom, don't live in America.

      Yeah... "if you want X don't Y" statements don't really move any discussions further.

  • So if the law they are suing under allows a maximum of $10,000 per claimant then how did they ever arrive at $15 billion split between just 21 people?

    • by anglico (1232406)
      I haven't read the article yet but my guess is 21 cases include multiple people per case.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      $15E9 / $10E3 = 1.5E6 people in the class

    • by mycroft16 (848585)
      21 cases, not people. Each case may represent hundreds of thousands of people. This final case is grouping all 21 of those together. The $10,000 is the maximum damage allowed under law per person, not per case.
    • by ark1 (873448)
      It's 21 cases, we don't know how many people could benefit. Worst case it is 21 people in which case : $10,000 * 21 people + Lawyers fees = $15b
    • So if the law they are suing under allows a maximum of $10,000 per claimant then how did they ever arrive at $15 billion split between just 21 people?

      Its not split between 21 people. It amends and consolidates 21 previously-separate lawsuits; its a class action where the class is "all Facebook users" (or, more specifically, all people who were Facebook users during any portion of the period of time covered by the lawsuit), which is somewhat more than 21 people.

  • Wouldn't any company that using tracking cookies be guilty under this definition of wiretapping?
    • by mycroft16 (848585)
      Only if they continue to track your activity after you log out of a site.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So, considering Google doesn't even respect user privacy selections made in the browser - the answer is yes, Google would be guilty as well?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          That's not true in the slightest. You can opt out of a tracking cookie (or even tailor which information they collect) here: www.google.com/ads/preferences

          Google's privacy policy also states that they do not combine information from your Google account with information from your doubleclick cookie (i.e., the tracking cookie).

  • Now that the value is known, there will be a lot of people suing facebook. It will keep their lawyers busy.
  • This IPO was today. If this was released and "mediatized" yesterday it would have hurt the IPO quite a bit. Now of course, the share holders are stuck with it. Maybe since it helps keep the value of the lawsuit up it helps the case along to boot.

    • by ark1 (873448)
      Its also in the best interest of those who launched the suits to keep everything low profile until past IPO day. This way larger initial amount raised -> higher potential payout if they win/settle.
      • by s.petry (762400)

        That's what I was getting at in my second sentence, but you said it much better :D

    • This IPO was today. If this was released and "mediatized" yesterday it would have hurt the IPO quite a bit.

      Major media reports of the action (which is a consolidation of actions already filed) were published before trading opened. They probably did hurt the IPO quite a bit.

      Slashdot isn't exactly the leading edge of news delivery.

    • by rgbrenner (317308)

      From the article:

      It’s worth noting that similar cases against Facebook and others filed under the wiretap law have been thrown out because browser cookies are simply not considered wiretaps and plaintiffs have difficulty proving any harm.

      So it's unlikely this is going to matter one bit.

  • by Chemisor (97276) on Friday May 18, 2012 @06:19PM (#40046839)

    Damages: $15,000,000,000.00
    User compensation: $2,100.00
    Lawyer fees: $14,999,997,900.00

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Damages: $15,000,000,000.00
      User compensation: $2,100.00
      Lawyer fees: $14,999,997,900.00

      Number 2 said that the Hollywood talent agency was evil and legit and we made billions! Then he said let's start a law firm. We originally wanted 100 BILLION DOLLARS but Scotty said to not be greedy and to just go for 15 BILLION DOLLARS.

      Dr. Evil

    • Yes, in the end the plaintiff's may get squat and the layers make a fortune.
      However, sometimes the message sent is worth more than the dollars earned.
      I doubt that anyone is going to see $15 billion, even the lawyers. However if they manage to hit FB for enough money to make it hurt, then that's going to spark a change in behaviour. The end result is still beneficial to those that don't want to be tracked.

      Unlike lawsuits where people are out some monetary amount due to a defective product or physically harmf

    • by Idetuxs (2456206)

      It's funny this is modded up "Informative"

  • by rgbrenner (317308) on Friday May 18, 2012 @07:24PM (#40047325)

    21 people suing because they were tracked DEFINITELY deserve 15 billion. I could totally see how they would have 715million in damaged each from facebook's egregious actions.

    On a serious note, the government sets the value of a life at $6-9 million [nytimes.com]. So facebook could have just kill these people, and save $14.874 billion.

  • well first off, that is if they are found guilty. i can sue anyone for anything and we are suppose to be innocent until proven guilty. that being said; I hope they get roasted (if they are guilty). not the $25,000 (?) fine Google got either. if these companies don't get bitch slapped then they will keep doing wrong. i am just kind of mad that more users don't stand up for their rights.I am not a FB person and do not have an account anymore. not to stray off topic to much but it seems like it got to the poi
  • Ask: Why did the early investors/founders in FB increase the number of shares they floated in the last few days (to 15% of the company, iirc), and radically overprice the IPO instead of pricing for investor excitement/momentum/growth?

    That's right. They know that the end game is right now. This is just one reason.

    On a related tangent...anyone heard anything about the latest with Paul Ceglia?

    Ceglia was briefly represented by a huge global law firm (DLA Piper), claiming a contract with Zuck showed that he owne

  • What about those guys he stole Facebook from? Are they being sued as well?

  • The stock was obviously only kept up by the bankers because they didn't want egg on their face for a first day stock drop. One has to wonder how much stomach they will have for propping the stock up before it sinks to a more sane value. The smart money should be pulling out because they know this.

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