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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Facebook Ducks Claims It Tracks Logged-Off Users

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge has dismissed claims that Facebook broke privacy laws by tracking users' Internet activity after logging out to feed information to advertisers.

Plaintiffs Perrin Davis, Cynthia Quinn, Brian Lentz and Matthew Vickery filed a consolidated class action against Facebook in 2012, claiming the world's largest social networking site knowingly violated several state and federal laws by tracking users while they are logged on to Facebook, but also after they logged off.

"Facebook conditions its membership upon users providing sensitive and valuable personal information to Facebook upon registration, including name, birth date, gender and email address," according to the 46-page complaint. "More importantly, Facebook conditions membership upon the user accepting numerous Facebook small text files, called cookies, on the user's computer, which allows Facebook to intercept its users' electronic communications and track browsing history."

There are two types of cookies, called "session" cookies and "tracking" cookies. Of particular concern, the plaintiffs said, are the tracking cookies that do not expire when the user leaves his Facebook account. The cookies continue sending data back to Facebook, which is essentially "getting details of where you go on the Internet," according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs, which include a professor and a doctor, sought $15 billion in damages for violation of the Federal Wiretap Act alone, but also claimed violation of the Stored Communications Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, California's unfair competition law, the California Computer Crime Law, the California Invasion of Privacy Act, and the state's Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

Facebook filed a motion to dismiss in July 2012, arguing that the plaintiffs' claims all fail for lack of standing, that the fraud-based claims lack factual specificity and that the plaintiffs have not stated an actionable claim.

The U.S. District Court in San Jose produced a ruling after three years.

U.S. District Judge Edward Davila dismissed the privacy, intrusion upon seclusion, conversion and the trespass to chattels claims, as well as the unfair competition, computer crime law and consumer claims for lack of standing.

"Plaintiffs have not shown that they personally lost the opportunity to sell their information or that the value of their information was somehow diminished after it was collected by Facebook," he said in Monday's 19-page order. "Since plaintiffs have not demonstrated that Facebook's conduct resulted in some concrete and particularized harm, they have not articulated a cognizable basis for standing."

Davila added that the plaintiffs "have established statutory standing for claims under the Wiretap Act, Stored Communications Act and California Invasion of Privacy Act," but found that they were unable to state a "plausible claim" under those laws - effectively nullifying the standing.

He said that the plaintiffs "have not alleged that Facebook intercepted anything that qualifies as 'content' under the Wiretap Act" and that the Stored Communications Act and invasion of privacy claims are also deficient.

Davila, however, granted leave to amend all but the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act claim, which the plaintiffs withdrew.

Plaintiff attorney Paul Kiesel was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Facebook attorney Michael Rhodes did not immediately return a request for comment.

The plaintiffs have until Nov. 30, 2015, to file an amended complaint. A case management conference is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2016.

Facebook is the brainchild of founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who came up with the idea in his Harvard University dorm room and launched the company in 2004. The social-networking site reported 1.11 billion monthly active users in 2013.

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