Facebook Agrees to Cut Back on Its Snooping

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Facebook has agreed to stop reading its users’ private messages for targeted ads, to settle a class action that claims it broke federal and state laws by doing so without consent.

Class counsel on Wednesday filed a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement, to which the parties agreed in December after six months of negotiations.

“The settlement achieves significant business practice changes, and benefits the settlement class now,” the settlement motion states.

Lead plaintiffs Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley sued in Federal Court in 2013, claiming Facebook scanned its users’ private Facebook messages for URLs to third-party websites and used the information to generate “likes” for those websites and targeted advertising aimed at users.

The plaintiffs said that scanning private messages without consent violated the federal Wiretap Act and California’s Invasion of Privacy Act.

Under the terms of the settlement, Facebook agrees to stop using data from URLs in private messages to target advertising, and to stop sharing user data with third parties and increasing the number of “likes” on third-party websites.

Facebook claims it stopped doing those things during the three-year litigation, according to the settlement motion. It says it has begun telling users that it collects content from their messages, and explains how it uses that content.

Facebook has also agreed to include language on its U.S. Help Center website disclosing that it identifies and stores links in messages, including the number of times a link was shared.

The proposed settlement covers only claims for declaratory, injunctive and non-monetary relief. Class members, except for class representatives, will still be able to file claims for money damages. Both class representatives will receive awards of $5,000 each.

“In other words, the class benefits,” the motion states.

Class counsel asked the court to certify a class of Facebook users in the United States and its territories who sent or received private messages from other Facebook users that included URLs between Dec. 30, 2011 and March 1, 2017.

Facebook attorney Joshua Jessen with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Irvine declined to comment on the proposed settlement. Facebook did not return a request for comment.

Lead counsel Hank Bates of Carney Bates & Pulliam in Little Rock represents the class. He could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.