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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Digital Privacy Group Is Worried About Facebook

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to digital civil liberties, urged a federal judge to dismiss fraud claims against a web developer, saying the allegations are part of Facebook's "dangerous" plan to profit from users' information.

Power Ventures, which creates applications for social-networking sites, is fighting to dismiss certain claims from a lawsuit filed by Facebook in 2009, alleging violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and California penal codes.

Facebook has taken issue with a Power Ventures app that enables users with various social-networking accounts to aggregate the information they store on each network. The finished product, Power.com, lets users see data, friend lists and other information from multiple services on a single screen.

While Facebook's lawsuit says that the competitor steals electronic data from Facebook users to send them commercial spam, Power and its supporters paint a different picture.

In a friend of the court brief filed Tuesday, Electronic Frontier Foundation says that Facebook targeted Power because it cannot profit off it. Facebook allegedly wanted Power Ventures to use the Facebook interface, "apparently ... [to] have more control over how stored data was accessed and manipulated," according to EFF.

But Power refused because it did not think Facebook's interface would allow for the full functionality that it wanted for its app.

Facebook responded by blocking the IP address Power had used to access Facebook.

Its lawsuit takes issue with Power's alleged workaround. Anticipating that Facebook would prevent members from using the Power interface to access their Facebook accounts, Power allegedly designed its service to rotate IP addresses. Facebook says this circumvention violated the law.

Power stopped offering its service to Facebook users when the social network sued.

But EFF says Facebook has been unable to show that Power ever bypassed an IP block or any other technical barrier.

While Facebook claims that violations of its terms of service are violations of the law, Electronic Frontier says this is an overbroad interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and criminal law.

"Should the court accept Facebook's view ... millions of otherwise innocent innovators and computer users commit frequent criminal violations of the law through ordinary-indeed routine-online behavior everyday," the brief states. "The public would be unable to distinguish in a meaningful and principled way between innocent and criminal activity, which is a constitutional harm."

The nonprofit also says Facebook has demanded a staggering $18 million in damages because Power wanted members to invite friends to try its service using the Facebook "event" feature.

Facebook claims that feature - by Facebook's own design - violates the CAN-SPAM Act, short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing, according to the brief.

"Under its CAN-SPAM theory, Facebook - or any other designer of a 'captive' email system - could design a system that fails to meet CAN-SPAM and then claim that any commercial event notification is a violation of federal law," EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said in a statement. "This is an outrageous and dangerous misuse of the law, especially in this age of social networks and internal messaging systems."

"We're asking the court to reject it," Cohn added.

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