Supreme Court rejects Facebook appeal in privacy lawsuit

The lawsuit accuses the social media giant of illegally tracking users’ internet activity

The US Supreme Court has rejected Facebook’s attempt to scale back a $15 billion class-action lawsuit that accuses the company of illegally tracking its users’ internet activity.

On Monday, justices turned down the social media giant’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling, allowing the lawsuit to move forward, Reuters reported.

The nationwide lawsuit accuses Facebook of violating the Wiretap Act by tracking users’ online activities that utilize features, such as the platform's “like” button, without their consent between April 2010 and September 2011. 

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook stopped its nonconsensual tracking after a researcher exposed it in 2011. The lawsuit argues that the company broke the law when it used plug-ins and cookies to collect users’ data before selling the information to advertisers.  

Facebook claims it protects users’ privacy and shouldn’t face liability over commonplace computer-to-computer communications. 

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Facebook argued that it’s not liable under the Wiretap Act because Facebook is a party to the communications at issue by virtue of its plug-ins. 

“Facebook was not an uninvited interloper to a communication between two separate parties; it was a direct participant,” the company said in a legal filing.

A federal judge had initially dismissed this lawsuit in 2017, but the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived it in a ruling last year, allowing the lawsuit to move forward. 

“Facebook’s user profiles would allegedly reveal an individual’s likes, dislikes, interests and habits over a significant amount of time, without affording users a meaningful opportunity to control or prevent the unauthorized exploration of their private lives,” the 9th Circuit said in its ruling. 

Facebook has more than 2 billion users worldwide, including more than 200 million in the US.

The social media giant previously faced a different class-action lawsuit following the revelation it collected data logs of messages and phone calls through its smartphone apps.

That lawsuit alleges Facebook’s terms and conditions didn’t make it clear it would harvest call and message data within its apps. 

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook users were incentivised to dig through the information Facebook had on them, which revealed the data scraping the lawsuit brings to the court.

Following that scandal, Facebook also suspended tens of thousands of apps from its platform as part of a wider investigation into its data-sharing practices.

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