Meta sued for snooping on Facebook users, after paying billions in fines over repeated privacy violations

The allegation is that Meta has been tracking user activity even after Apple’s updates tried to prevent that, and has also violated a federal law on intercepting electronic communication in the process.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Saturday, September 24, 2022, 04:02 PM IST
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Representative Image of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg | Photo: Twitter

Facebook started off as that fun platform where you could post random daily updates or inspirational quotes, and upload selfies for like when you weren’t taking pointless quizzes. As social media became a measure of popularity for individuals, brands and leaders, it soon turned into a data mining machine. As the race to pass on data on consumer behaviour data to marketers intensified, Facebook was caught violating user privacy on several occasions and faced flak over multiple data leaks.

After having to pay more than $6 billion in penalties over failure to protect user data globally, Facebook now faces another lawsuit for snooping on users, even after Apple’s privacy update prevented it. Meta, Mark Zuckerberg’s firm behind Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, has been sued by users for violating Apple’s restrictions, as it monitored their activity by opening links they clicked on within its app.

Violated federal laws as well?

Users who filed the class action lawsuit in California, allege that other than Apple’s norms, Meta also violated the federal Wiretap Act, which bars it from intercepting electronic communication without consent. To keep an eye on the sites that people visit, Facebook injects javascript into them, after opening them through the app's built-in browser. This allows Meta to record every interaction, including the passwords and text people enter on the sites.

Although Facebook says that the allegations have no merit, its track record on privacy doesn’t inspire confidence among users. This is also a blow for Zuckerberg who has already lost $71 billion from his wealth in just one year. His popularity has also suffered a blow after a public dressing down during a congressional hearing about the Cambridge Analytica data leak, where Facebook user data was used to manipulate the 2016 US Presidential polls.

Are you being watched?

If you’ve been bombarded with suggested posts related to a link you clicked on or a video you watched on Facebook, it’s probably because they are watching you. Getting ads about a product or service you looked up start appearing, because your user data fuels the algorithm. The consumer has become the product as online behaviour, once supposed to personalise user experiences, is being diverted to marketers for posting targeted ads. Data is digital gold, and social media platforms have been cashing in on it.

Still losing out

This year Facebook’s active users started growing for the first time since it was launched, and its attempts to ape TikTok’s features on Instagram were rolled back after being slammed by users. A Washington Post report also exposed Meta’s attempts to run a smear campaign against TikTok through a consulting firm, but even that didn’t stop the short video app from hitting the Facebook and Instagram user-base. Since ads don’t have to be perfect on TikTok, and require less manual work compared to Facebook, it may soon surge past Meta.

So lagging behind TikTok despite snooping on users for their data, and facing lawsuits leading to hefty fines over privacy, doesn’t seem like a great deal for Meta.

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